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An Era of Bad Feelings

President Barack Obama met with President-elect Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, and by all accounts it was quite cordial. Trump, who spent much of the past eight years arguing that Obama was ineligible to hold the office by virtue of his foreign birth until conceding just a few weeks ago that he wasn’t born outside the country after all, emerged with kinds words for the president and a promise to frequently seek his counsel. Obama, who spent most of the past several months arguing that Trump should be ineligible for the presidency for reasons of intelligence, temperament and character, promised to provide whatever help he could to make his successor a success.
Not everyone, though, was so civil. Riots have broken out in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, protests of various size and degrees of civility are happening all across the country, there’s been a nationwide outbreak of graffiti and vandalism, and activists are promising that it will increase in the coming days. The late night comics and the big time columnists are grousing about the election, “not my president” is the hot new “hashtag,” and all sorts of people are expressing their dissatisfaction in all sorts of ways. The front lawn of a house next door to our neighborhood coffee shop has sprouted a hand-lettered “not my president” sign, which we noticed as we sat outside and sipped some java on a warm fall afternoon with a couple of seemingly shell-shocked old friends and third old friend who was relieved that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had lost but not noticeably happy about Trump winning.
This sort of thing happens every four years, of course, but in this crazy election year the feelings are palpably more intense and seem likely to linger far longer than usual. Several cities around the country had already endured a year of riots in response to police shootings of civilians, even during a presidential administration reflexively biased against the officers involved, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that has prompted the rioting surely won’t be any less belligerent with an administration that has promised to be reflexively biased in favor of law enforcement. Various sorts of left-wing thugs were assaulting Trump’s rally-goers and firebombing Republican Party headquarters and spray-painting everything in sight even before he won, and the results of an election are not likely to placate them. That segment of the self-described progressive movement prone to shutting down bridges and disrupting downtown traffic and scaring the tourists away from the shopping districts found plenty to do even during the progressive administration they had all campaigned for, and we expect that an administration they campaigned against will keep them even busier. Some people look for excuses to engage in their hobby of civil disobedience, and they’ll no doubt find a constant supply of them in the coming years.
Should the anti-Trump movement reach anywhere near the level of violence and mayhem of the anti-Vietnam War protests of the ’60s we expect that the president will be eager to deliver some of that ’60s style law and order he talked about during the campaign, and like all arson sprees it will eventually burn itself out, but a more peaceable anger will continue to smolder. Votes are still being counted somewhere, for some reason, but as of this writing Clinton still has a slight lead in the popular vote totals, with well more than half of the electorate voting for someone other than Trump, and if you add in the large number of people who didn’t vote at all it’s a landslide number of Americans who didn’t vote for him, and of those who did vote for him we estimate that about half are like our kaffeeklatsch pal who did so only because he thought Clinton would be even worse, so that’s a lot of dissatisfied people. Given Trump’s proudly pugnacious style of dealing with criticism, we don’t anticipate another Era of Good Feelings.
One must admit, though, that Trump has been on his best behavior since the election was called in his favor. His victory speech was conspicuously lacking in any of the chest-thumping that followed every primary win, and even included some kind words for the opponent he had repeatedly promised to put behind bars. The remarks after meeting the president he had so long claimed was illegitimately elected were uncharacteristically gracious, and apparently he was even civil during a meeting with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who was also the subject of angry “tweets” and veiled threats during the campaign. He did send his first “Tweet” as President-elect to complain “professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very Unfair!,” but at least he didn’t promise some sort of nuclear retaliation against Oakland and Portland. One must also admit that both Clinton and Obama have been uncharacteristically classy about what must surely be a bitter loss, and some of the chattering classes are also chipping in some begrudging bi-partisan best wishes.
That sort of thing happens every four years, however, and it never lasts for very long. After this crazy election  year it should dissipate more quickly than usual. Trump can’t stay gracious any longer than Clinton or Obama can keep classy, and the most hard-core fans on both sides can be a most ungraciousness and classless bunch, and we’re certain it’s going to make for an ugly four years. Those of us who can’t stand any of them will continue to add our sneers and snark, too, but we’ll try our best to propose something as an alternative, and promise that at least we won’t be rioting or setting anything on fire or otherwise delaying your drive home from work.

— Bud Norman

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Politics in a Murderous Age

One of the few positive developments in America over the past two decades had been a dramatic decline in murders and other crimes, but in the past year or so the trend has suddenly reversed. All the experts are debating the possible causes, and coming up with all sorts of politically expedient explanations, but our admittedly amateur analysis suggests it has something to do with all the anti-police activity that has been going on for the past year or so.
There’s still no unanimity of opinion about what was causing that long term decline, with some on the left crediting legalized abortion for reducing the number of unwanted children who would have grown up to be murderers and criminals and others citing the success of the long-ago ban on lead paint, and all the right-wing crazies insisting it was a result of all those tough-one-crime measures enacted about twenty years or so ago, so it’s no surprise that there is similar disagreement about the recent increase. The left is mostly blaming the widespread availability of guns, as usual, and the right-wing crazies are insisting that it’s a result of a recent retreat from the tough-on-crime measures, as usual, and as usual we’re inclined to the latter point of view.
That twenty year decline in the murder rate happened as gun ownership became more common, and state legislatures and federal courts mostly expanded the rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves with firearms, so it seems unlikely that the relatively small number of guns that have been added to the nation’s arsenal in the past year has brought the country to some sort of murderous tipping point. The past year or so has also brought riots, protests, hashtag campaigns, Department of Justice investigations into police practices, a “Black Lives Matter” protest movement that has cowed the Democratic Party’s presidential contenders, the usual number of lawsuits, a hit movie about a “gangsta rap” group whose biggest hit was “F**k Tha Police,” and the combined power of the entertainment and news media wringing their hands over the bloodthirsty racism of the nation’s law enforcement officers. At this point we can hardly blame any police officer for preferring to sit in his squad car on some anodyne street sipping coffee and eating doughnuts rather than risk the penalties that might result from actually enforcing the law, and our experience of human nature assures us there’s plenty of that going on lately, so it doesn’t seem at all coincidental that the murder rate started climbing right around the time all that nonsense started happening.
Our suspicion is further corroborated by the fact that the cities seeing the most alarming increases are the ones where the anti-police activity has been most intense. Milwaukee has experienced an alarming 75 percent increase in its murder rate since last year, and it coincides with the protests that followed a police shooting of black man in what was officially ruled a justifiable act of self-defense. The St. Louis area, which includes the riot-torn town of Ferguson, Missouri, whose police department is under federal investigation after yet another shooting of an unarmed black man that even the Department of Justice now admits was also a justifiable act of self-defense, has seen its murder rate rise by 60 percent. Baltimore, the scene of similar rioting after the death of yet another black man was killed during an encounter with the police, and which is also the target of a federal investigation, is third on the list of the most hard-hit with a 54 percent increase. Washington, D.C., where the Department of Justice is located, comes in fourth a 44 percent increase.
As even The New York Times gets around to admitting in the 38th paragraph of a generally good story about the murder boom, it’s mostly black lives that are being lost. The “Black Lives Matter” movement doesn’t seem to care, though, as it’s only concerned with those black lives lost during encounters with the police, no matter how justifiably the officers might have acted, and at the moment they seem to hold sway in one of the country’s two major political parties. Longshot candidate Martin O’Malley, who was inconveniently both the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland, has been forced to apologize for saying that “all lives matter,” surging candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has cowardly ceded his campaign platform to a trio of the movement’s bullies, and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is still described as a front-runner, is now criticizing the bigger police budgets and longer sentences and other measures that she and her then-president husband once championed. Meanwhile the Department of Justice continues its investigations, the Democratic president who runs it continues to enflame racial grievances against the police, while the mayor of New York City, which has seen a 9 percent increase in its homicide rate over last year, which was up from the year before, is a fierce critic of “stop-and-frisk” and other aggressive law enforcement methods as well as a darling of the party’s left, and no one in the party can be heard to defend law enforcement.
This might help the Republicans’ chances in the upcoming election, but perhaps not. The murder rate is mostly going up in places that are Democratic strongholds, and are likely to remain so no matter how apocalyptic their neighborhoods become, and we suspect that only we right-wing crazies are appalled enough by all these murders to consider doing all the things that used to be bringing the murder deliriously down. Eventually the public’s impatience with rampant murder in the streets will insist on all that old-fashioned tough on crime stance, and we’re sure the Clintons will be right back with the crowd, but it remains to be seen if that moment will arrive by Election Day.

— Bud Norman

Thug Life

The eyewitness testimony and physical evidence presented to a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, indicate that 18-year-old Michael Brown led a thug’s life and died a thug’s death. This unhappy conclusion hasn’t prevened numerous other thugs from rioting and looting and burning buildings and firing random gunshots in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who fired the fatal shots when Brown attacked him and struggled for his gun, nor did it prevent some presumably less thuggish pundits and politicians from attempting to justify the mayhem, but it is worth noting nonetheless.
Such sad facts of the matter, alas, are easily lost in the inevitable racial acrimony. Initial reports about last summer’s shooting accurately stated that a white police officer had fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, and in the absence of any other relevant information much of the media went with the story that in front of numerous witnesses the cop had for no plausible reason other than racial animus gunned down a soon-to-be college student who was kneeling in the street with his hands up. Despite its apparent implausibility the story was believed widely enough to fuel several days of rioting and looting and burning of buildings and firing of gunshots, and for the President of the United States to send an emissary to Brown’s funeral, and for much of the press to stick to its story.
By this point the story of the blameless black victim of white America’s murderous racism is simply too tempting not to run with. As far back as the ’80s Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” was satirizing the modern racial controversy rituals with the sharp-eyed detail of a cynical reporter characterizing the victim as an “honor” because one of his teacher’s had said that anyone at his high school who didn’t stab a teacher deserved the designation, and the same technique has since become a staple of modern journalism. The previous celebrity victim of America’s lethal racism was a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin, portrayed by much of the media as Skittles-loving, tea-drinking and baby-faced 12-year-old even as a jury heard evidence that the hulking and haggard 17-year-old had phoned a friend about the “creepy ass cracker” who was watching him and was pounding the aforementioned creepy ass cracker’s head against the pavement when the fatal shots were fired. The even more formidable Brown was often described as a “gentle giant,” even after the release of a surveillance camera’s videotape of him and a colleague strong-arm robbing a convenience shortly before his fatal encounter with the police officer, and the image persists even after the release of the convincing eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that Brown had struggled for the officer’s gun and was lunging at him “like a football player” as the fatal shots were fired.
Even in the face of such unsettling facts the broader story about America’s irredeemable racism has irresistible appeal to some people. For the thugs it provides a convenient rationale for rioting and looting and burning buildings and firing random gunshots and other enjoyable activities. For politicians who rely on the racial grievances of impoverished ethnic minorities to bolster their coalitions with super-rich white folks it’s an obvious argument. For the professional race hustlers it’s all in a day’s work. Harder to explain are the comfortably cocooned apologists for rioting and looting and arson and gunfire who proudly consider themselves “progressive.”
Over at the once-venerable Time Magazine they’re running a piece “In Defense of Rioting,” which will probably prove unpersuasive to the mostly-minority businessmen who’ve recently seen their hard work burned to the ground on behalf of a thug who tried to kill a cop. They also have a story on the humber of police who have lately committed “justifiable homicide,” with the term framed with sarcastic quote marks as if it had recently been invented by some cabal of racists who are somehow still in charge of the language, and strain hard to make it seem significant. The story goes so far as to note that “black teenagers were 21 more times likely to be shot dead by an officer than white teenagers,” which only suggests that it is extraordinarily unusual for a white teenager to fatally shoot a black teenager, and leaves the more skeptical reader to wonder if a black teenager might be more likely yet to shot to death by another black teenager. The political class is obliged to at least express disapproval of rioting, but it will speak of “justifiable anger.”
Such willful blindness to the racial realities that most Americans understand all too well is largely a result of nostalgia. Once upon a time in America there were ample blameless black victims of white America’s murderous racism, with such exceptional men as Medgar Evers and James Chaney and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. among the martyrs, and those who championed their cause of civil rights did so with an exhilarating sense of righteousness. Their efforts succeeded in making segregation illegal and changing public attitudes about race and establishing vast government programs of more questionable value, and although matters of race have since become less black-and-white in any sense of the term there’s still a longing for that exhilarating sense of righteousness that shouts of racism once provided.
All those years of America’s tragic racial history might explain why Michael Brown led a thug’s life and died a thug’s death, but that made no difference to the police officer who had a hulking young man going for his gun and taunting that he was too cowardly to protect himself. Nor does it make any difference to the mostly minority businessmen whose hard work has been burned to the ground by other thugs, or to that majority black men and women who are trying to make their way in the broader society and hoping that its racial attitudes won’t revert to its old suspicions, or to any of the people of all races in all parts of this country who are routinely menaced by thugs emboldened by the rationalizations offered by people who pride themselves on being “progressive.”

— Bud Norman

A Full Day of Outrageous Presidential Remarks

Even on the slowest news days an opinion writer can almost always count on President Barack Obama to provide some outrageous remark to fulminate about. On Monday, though, the president provided more than the usual fodder.
One hardly knows where to begin, but it might as well be with the official White House statement regarding the latest horrific beheading of an American by the Islamic State, the bloodthirsty terrorist gang that was once dismissed by the president as a “jayvee team” and is now in charge of much of Syria and prematurely-abandoned-by-America Iraq. The statement appropriately offers prayers and condolences to the victim’s family, and accurately describes the murder as “an act of pure evil,” but then veers into the most bizarre apologetics. Referring to the terror gang by its preferred acronym, and to the victim by the name he adopted during his captivity to them, the statement adds that “ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.” The dubious claim that the Islamic State’s actions have nothing to do with Islam is by now an obligatory ritual that follows every act of Islamist terrorism, but that “least of all” defies any rational explanation. There’s no avoiding an implication that Muslims are far less inclined toward beheading infidels than the adherents of Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism of Hinduism or any other religion, which is clearly contradicted by copious evidence stretching from Iraq to Oklahoma, nor the conclusion that the president regards the victim’s conversion to his captor’s supposedly anti-Islamic creed as sincere. We can well understand a desire not to rile the non-beheading Muslim population, but the president’s remarks smack of a religious favoritism that is inappropriate and downright worrisome from an American leader.
Then there’s the report of the president’s advice to the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, to “stay the course.” The previously little-known St. Louis suburb has endured rioting and looting and arson and assorted acts of mayhem ever since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, and now that it appears a grand jury which has heard all the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony will conclude that the officer acted in self-defense against a violent behemoth who attacked him and was struggling for his gun there is a legitimate concern that more rioting and looting and arson and assorted mayhem will soon follow. A generous interpretation of the president’s remarks would be that he urges them to “stay on the course” of peaceful protest, rather than the course that has been taken, but even the peaceful protestors he was addressing have stated that “Rioting and looting are the tools of those without a voice.” Better advice would be for the protestors to respect the conclusion of the grand jury, and the facts that led it to its conclusion, but apparently the president who promised a post-racial America would prefer that a majority-black town be utterly destroyed.
Slightly less irksome are the president’s disavowals of Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economic professor who has been caught on videotape gloating about the deceptions that were used to ensure the passage of Obamacare and the stupidity of the American voters who fell for them. The president’s previous admission that he “stole liberally” from the professor is more convincing, given the $400,000 the president paid for the professor’s advice and the if-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep-your plan deceptions that were indeed built into the law, so only the most stupid American voters are likely to be fooled once again. Given the bone-chilling weather that has arrived ahead of schedule here in Kansas we are more annoyed by the president’s boast that the Republican majorities that have been installed in both chambers of Congress by a clear majority of voters won’t be able to stop his executive orders to combat global warming, but on a day so full of outrageous remarks even that doesn’t warrant a full column.

— Bud Norman

Gloom and Doom and Whom to Blame

We’ve been espousing gloom and doom for the past many years, and it seems the rest of the country has at last caught up to us. No less a mainstream source than the Politico web site has taken measure of the latest public opinion polling and distilled it into the headline “Everything is terrible.”
A cursory glance at the latest headlines easily explains the widespread sentiment. The post-war international order is breaking down across the globe, the social order is unraveling around St. Louis in a series of riots, an invasion of unaccompanied minors continues on the disappearing southern border, and as the youngsters head back to school their parents’ and teachers’ bake sales are being subjected to bureaucratic bullying. There are stray stories about a suspiciously strong market and an improving labor market, although if a closer look that the former is a result of inflationary money-printing by the Fed and the latter its mostly a matter of part-time jobs going to those invaders from the southern border, and most people seem more convinced by their diminishing bottom lines than by the press. At this point, judging by the Politico analysis, it’s just a matter of assigning blame.
The left-leaning publication seems hopeful that there’s enough of it go around stave off another mid-term shellacking by the Republicans, and cites the example of a Senate race in North Carolina where the Democratic incumbent holds a lead despite some being unfavorably regarded by a majority of the state, but it seems unlikely to be apportioned in equal measures. Foreign policy is mostly a presidential prerogative, and efforts to blame the current mess on the president who left office six years ago are growing tiresome, especially when they’re a result of decisions the current president has repeatedly bragged about. There’s no way of knowing what happened in the police shooting that touched off that St. Louis rioting, although it’s a safe bet that the liquors stores and Taco Bells that are being targeted had anything do it, and in any case it is yet another reminder that the president’s promised post-racial America has not yet arrived. That invasion on the southern border can hardly be blamed on the welcoming attitude of Republicans, not after they’ve been relentlessly portrayed as xenophobic racist rednecks, and the president’s executive actions to defer deportations of unaccompanied minors seems a far more likely explanation. The crackdown on school bake sales is directly attributable to to the current administration, as are countless other burdensome and silly regulations. Despite the best efforts of the press to pretend that Sen. Harry Reid isn’t the majority leader in the do-nothing half of Congress the Republicans only control one half of one branch of the government, and given the president’s low ratings on his economic policies there’s not likely to be much of a market for the idea that our current sluggishness is a result of too little Obamanomics.
There is plenty of blame to go around, of course, and among those registering their disgust to the pollsters are bound to be a number of liberals who believe the president just hasn’t been appeasing enough in his foreign policy or angry enough in his racial denunciations or friendly enough in his attitudes to southern border invaders or exhaustive enough in his micro-regulation of America’s diet, and that just a few more trillion dollars of federal spending would have set everything right, but we doubt there are enough of them who will march to the polls with hope and change in their hearts to affect the mid-term elections.

— Bud Norman

Debts and Riots

The news reports from Greece give a horrifying account of the rioting, arson, and strikes there, but none offer any explanation of what the rioters, arsonists, and strikers want.

They obviously don’t want the austerity bill that was passed by their parliament on Sunday, which is easily understandable. Included in the bill are 150,000 public sector layoffs, a 22 percent cut in the minimum wage, a 20 percent cut in monthly pensions above €1,200, a 40 percent cut in the pensions of all retirees below the age of 55, and the income tax extended to all people making more than €5,000 a year. Such painful measures are not expected to boost the economic fortunes of a country that has been mired in recession for five years and suffers 21 percent unemployment, either, as one needn’t be a hard-core Keynesian to see how a largely government run economy will be affected by deep cuts in government spending.

What they do want, though, is less clear. The Greeks are discovering what many a profligate individual has learned over the years, that living on borrowed money eventually ends badly. There are no painless solutions, and all options seem to end in austerity.

Some of the rioters are reportedly communists hoping that a Marxist state will arise from the ashes, but if communism were the answer the Greeks would be getting bailed out by the Soviet Union. Others are no doubt hoping for some other form of government or non-government, but they can’t suggest one that comes with enough money to pay the enormous bills that have accumulated. Most are just venting their frustrations, if human nature is the same in Greece as elsewhere, but there is no precedent for rioting, arson, and strikes improving an economy.

Without the austerity bill, Greece won’t receive a promised €8 billion bail-out, and without it the country will be forced into default and an even greater economic catastrophe. As Prime Minister Lucas Papademos put it to the New York Times, “It would create conditions of uncontrolled economic chaos and a social explosion. The state would be unable to pay wages and pensions and cover basic operational costs such as those of hospitals and schools. The living standard of Greeks would collapse, and the country would be dragged into a spiral of recession, instability, unemployment and misery.”

Worse yet, Papademos seems to think, “all these developments would lead, sooner or later, to Greece’s exit from the Euro zone.”

Even if Greece does retain its European Union membership, which may or may not be a good thing, the austerity measures and the resulting bail-out hardly put the country on a sound financial footing. The plan hopes to have Greece’s debt down to a staggering 120 percent of its gross domestic product by 2020, and involves a 70 percent cut in payments to the saps who invested in the country, a bad haircut that’s likely to scare away foreign capital for years to come.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, President Barack Obama has proposed a budget that would add $1.33 trillion to the national debt this year and a mere $901 billion next year. These developments are, one hopes, unrelated.

— Bud Norman