The Gathering Storm, or Not

The devastating ice storm that was forecast for the weekend around here never materialized, just some much needed rain and slightly-above-freezing temperatures in a dreary gray mix, so maybe Inauguration Day won’t go so badly as predicted.
President-elect Donald Trump’s most fervent fans are fretting about everything from widespread rioting to an outright coup, and his most caustic critics are egging it on. Worried talk of a coup has accompanied every transfer of presidential power we can remember regardless of which party was departing the office, and seems as far-fetched as ever, but this time around the part about widespread rioting seems well within the realm of possibility. At the very least we anticipate a whole lot of mostly peaceable protestors and plenty acts of civil disobedience and much unpleasantness, and by now neither Trump’s most fervent fans nor his most caustic critics have much faith in the ability of the federal authorities to keep things under control.
The whole shindig will presumably be under the watchful eyes of all those intelligence agencies that the Trump critics used to hate but have lately started to adore since Trump and his fans started bad-mouthing them for leaking unverified by attention-grabbing allegations and such, but those intelligence agencies don’t seem to like Trump any more than he likes them, and there are conspiracy theories galore to be made of it by Trump’s fans and critics alike. Surely the District of Columbia’s police force will also be out in force, but neither Trump’s anti-cop critics nor his anti-D.C. fans will be reassured by that. Some 2,700 members of the District of Columbia’s National Guard and another 5,000 unarmed guardsman brought in from the around the country will also be on the job through the day and night, but their commanding general, who also oversees the military’s air support, will be off the job the moment Trump completes his oath of office.
There are conspiracy theories galore just in that detail, as out-going President Barack Obama had refused to accept the resignation of the general, who had originally been appointed to the post by previous President George W. Bush and by all accounts done a fine job through by administrations, but the in-coming president had decided to accept the resignation as his first official act, which was either a petty gesture by Obama or a rash decision by Trump depending on who you’re rooting for. From our perspective on the sidelines both seem well within the realm of possibility, but in any case it’s at least momentarily unclear on who will be commanding those troops when Trump lifts his hand of the Bible and whether that person is fully apprised of the situation.
Trump reportedly retains a sizable personal security detail, which his critics in the Secret Service are reportedly criticizing, but they won’t be of much use to anyone in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap who wanders into a crowd of especially agitated protesters, and of no use at all to anyone wearing the wrong t-shirt who wanders into some of the more revved-up revelers. The Bikers For Trump will be there, too, and we trust that they’re better behaved than the bikers The Rolling Stones hired for as event security for that ill-fated Altamont show. Plenty of good people on both sides will also presumably be present, and we hope that they’ll do what they can and we wish them all well.
We’ve been through enough storms and inaugurations to have noticed that the Republic has weathered them all, and expect that it will again. This past election year has been particularly crazy, and some storms are worse than others, but one can always hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Keeping the President Alive

Back when President Barack Obama was first elected, during that delusional era of hope and change and boundless “Yes we can” optimism, it was a widely held belief among our liberal friends that he would soon be assassinated.
The notion that the James Earl Rays of America would never tolerate a black president had been a staple of black stand-up comedy for years, and the more progressive white folks seemed to assume that conservatives harbored the same murderous fantasies that they’d indulged in all through the George W. Bush era. Our nation’s unhappy history compelled us to concede that there was a risk, but we tried to reassure our friends that it didn’t seem any more dire than usual. There are no doubt a few would-be James Earl Rays left out there, but by now even the dimmest of them are well aware that modern society won’t confer them the heroic status that their hero mistakenly thought he would acquire, and every conservative of our acquaintance was especially anxious to see the president serve out his term. Not just for the usual patriotic and moral reasons, or the prospect of a Joe Biden presidency, but also from a nagging fear that a martyred Obama would usher in an era of unrestrained liberalism more effectively than even a live one.
If an assassination attempt were made, we figured, it would most likely be by another of the deranged anarchists or disgruntled office-seekers or Fair Play for Cuba activists or Manson family members or man-hating feminists or love-struck movie fans or assorted other nut cases who have taken shots at presidents in the past. The thought has reoccured to us with the news that one such nut case was recently able to climb over the White House fence, walk through the unlocked front door, manhandle his way past an undersized woman security guard, and then penetrate deep into the president’s residence. Throw in the the past several years’ worth of stories about Secret Service agents boozing it up and consorting with prostitutes, party-crashers making their way to within hand-shaking distance of the president, known criminals  pretending to provide deaf language interpretation right next to the president, along with some of the other Secret Service scandals so numerous we can’t quite recall them all of the top of our head, and there is reason to believe that a president whose survival is of paramount importance to both liberals and conservatives is not being adequately protected.
Congressional hearings regarding the matter are scheduled for today, with the woman in charge of presidential security summoned to provide testimony, and we expect the Republicans will pose the more aggressive questions and insist on the more robust solutions. The president is ultimately responsible for own security, as we all are, and as usual it would be embarrassing for the Democrats to too closely scrutinize his job performance. The Republicans, remembering how much more saintly and perfectly liberal President John F. Kennedy was in death than he ever was  in life, and knowing full well that they will be blamed for any misfortune, just as Dallas’ “riight-wing  climate of hate” was blamed for that Fair Play for Cuba activist’s lucky shots, will have a greater stake in keeping the president alive.

— Bud Norman

Forever Scotland, More or Less

That Scottish independence referendum proved anti-climactic. Had the Scots voted to secede from the United Kingdom it would have been one of the biggest stories in years, roiling financial markets and re-aligning the geo-political order and fueling separatist movements around the world and provoking thousands of op-ed pieces and stirring up God only knows what other sorts of irksome mischief, but the apparent vote to stay put just means that a rather desultory status quo will continue indefinitely.
Disappointing as it might be to the world’s press and other cheerleaders for catastrophe, the result is not surprising to anyone who still credits the Scots with a modicum of common sense. When the United States declared its independence from Great Britain they believed that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” and laid out a litany of complaints that included standing armies quartered among the general population and taxation without representation and an ongoing slave trade, but after 307 years of union the would-be Scottish nationalists were never able to make such a convincing case to their relatively pampered countrymen. Instead they relied on Obama-esque slogans of “Yes We Can” and “hope” and “change” along with a blatant appeal to the most base sort of tribalism and the endorsements of empty-headed show biz celebrities, and apparently that wasn’t enough to overcome a lot of questions about the country’s currency and solvency and place in the security arrangements that have prevailed over the past half century and more.
That the question even came up is prompting some soul-searching all over the western world, with the press in even the more seemingly solid jurisdictions pondering the strange discontent that seems to have settled upon the unwashed masses almost everywhere. The reliably elitist New York Times worries that it’s symptomatic of a global rebellion against the elites, and at the other end of the media spectrum the reliably populist billionaire Rupert Murdoch is saying the same thing without the same fretful tone. All the world’s various secessionist movements, from Spain’s Basque and Cantalonia regions to Flemish Belgium to Italy’s hard-working northern portion to the Kurdish enclaves of the Middle East to Texas and California, all have very specific complaints, but there’s a natural inclination to lump them all together. The independence-minded Scots were dreaming of a country that would levy higher taxes and lavish more generous social services and pursue a more savage-friendly foreign policy, along with the welcoming immigration policies that are not usually associated with nationalist movements, but The New York Times can’t help likening them to America’s “tea party” movement because both represent the same threat to the established order. Those elites and their established order should not be reassured by Scotland’s acquiesce to the status quo, however, because it seems begrudging and disgruntled. There is clearly little enthusiasm in Scotland for Britishness, a concept that has become almost meaningless in the post-war era, but they just can’t muster the necessary Scottishness.
One of our few forays outside the United States was a driving tour of Scotland with our Pop a few years back that seemed to take us through every square mile of the country, and we found it a strikingly dissipated land. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, and you’ll still meet some likable folks in the picturesque villages, but there’s no mistaking that the best of the country is in the past. All of the best architecture is centuries old, and the stubbornly elegant squares of the cities are filled with statuary the great Scotsmen who enriched the world with their genius long ago, and the unattended churches are adorned with the names of Scotsmen who died fighting for Great Britain in wars long since forgotten, but what’s new is shabbily modern and the pubs are likely to erupt in a brawl at a moment’s notice and the mostly tabloid press is filled with tawdry crimes and scandals and the kinds of empty-headed show biz celebrities who endorsed Scottish independence. We had a nice beery evening listening to a Scottish folk band in a gorgeous little seaside pub, and couldn’t help noticing the resemblance to the bluegrass that the folkies are playing down in Winfield right now, but otherwise Scottishness seemed mostly a matter of higher taxes and more social services and the rest of the dissipating socialist agenda, and suspect that in the end that was not enough to persuade the average Scotsman to dissolve a familiar arrangement.
Any American op-ed writers looking for a local angle on the Scottish story would do well to avoid the “tea party” allusions. Limited government and lower taxes and expanded liberty and increased personal responsibility appeal to Americanism in a way that a welfare state does not appeal to any instinct of Scottishness going back more than 307 years, and those who are dissatisfied with status quo here still have what it takes to assume the burdens of nationhood.

— Bud Norman

An Almost Perfect Evening at the Ballpark

Tuesday provided us an almost perfect evening of Americana at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, just across the swelling Arkansas River from downtown Wichita.

The temperature was appropriately but not excessively high as the Sioux Falls Canaries took a worrisome lead at the top of the first, but as the Wichita Wingnuts kept within striking distance over the subsequent innings a picturesque prairie sunset descended upon the hallowed field and the clean Kansas air achieved an optimum warmth. We enjoyed hearing the familiar corny advertising promos that accompany almost every possible play of minor league baseball as we sat in the sun-blinding smoking section with a couple of stogie-loving pals, chatted amiably with a couple of late-arriving friends about some of the city’s more notorious crime stories of the past few decades in between our game commentary, and amused ourselves by annoying the more stridently liberal of the two with our speculation that a black baserunner on the opposing team was a threat to steal second. At the top of the eighth we overhead a young mother consoling her adorably chubby and mitt-wearing daughter that one doesn’t get to take home a foul ball every game, and in the bottom of the inning a sharply hit foul bonked off the head of our liberal friend’s sister and landed softly in the hands of that very girl. Better yet, the hometown team took its first lead, and the only one it needed, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The combined talents of Norman Rockwell and George M. Cohan could not have concocted a more satisfyingly old-fashioned American night, and with the free admission coupon we obtained from a local convenience store chain it was a bargain despite the over-priced beer, but it was made infuriatingly imperfect from the moment we had to pass through a wand-weilding security guard to gain admittance. Security at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium isn’t so intrusive and insulting as what the jet set routinely endures, but it entails a pat on the pants pockets and is annoying enough to spoil the illusion that we’re still living in the old America of the brave and free.
There’s no telling why such measures are thought necessary by the ballpark’s otherwise astute management. Even the most unambitious jihadist is unlikely to bomb an elegantly aging old ballpark where an unaffiliated double-A team called the Wingnuts is battling a team called the Canaries, and even the most culturally savvy of them would be unlikely to realize what a pregnantly symbolic target it would be. If those heavily-armed and rather ferocious-looking guards are concerned that a unmedicated nutcase is going to start abusing his concealed-carry permit they should spend some time in the stands, where the folks are both reassuringly normal by modern standards and yet somehow still well-equipped to take care of things in any contingency even by old-fashioned standards. The Wichita Wingnuts draw their rather modest crowds mostly from the inelegantly aging white working class near-westside neighborhood that abuts the ballpark, an area that was once one of the Wild West’s wildest townships, and it’s an intriguing mix of family values and biker tattoos that we sit among with complete confidence that they won’t attempt mass murder nor put up with any such nonsense.
Perhaps the Wingnuts’ management is following the lead of the far more fabled and lucrative Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad, which subjects its more aged and well-heeled and less likely to defend themselves fans to the same inexplicable scrutiny, Anything governmental around here is even nosier, and more behavior-altering. Our country boy Pop once inculcated in us the habit of carrying a Swiss Army knife, but we long ago abandoned that useful trait because of the Osama Bin Laden-like treatment we got from those guards at the city and county halls and federal courtrooms we were required by our profession to cover. Sometimes we find ourselves in need of the scissors or corkscrews that those devices put at our disposal, and we long for a bygone era.
Wingnuts games always draw a lot of cute young all-American kids, usually accompanied by parents who look as if they would otherwise be in one of the nearby dives, and it does our heart good to see them playing catch in between innings by the beer stand as we head off to a post-game beer with our pal at a local dive. Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Arky Vaughn and the all-steroid outfield of Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Pete Incaviglia once played in that ballpark, and we like to think those urchins are feeling some connection to those happier days. We think it would be good if they could take their own kids to a ballgame some day, and to walk in unmolested by the irrational fears that pervaded their childhoods, sure in the good intentions of their fellow Americans.

— Bud Norman

The Unfriendly Skies

This is being written in an affluent suburban community somewhere within the endless of sprawl of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, rather than at our usual humble heartland location, and this radical change of venue was accomplished through the miracle of modern aviation. Air travel is one of our least favorite modern miracles, and we don’t recommend it to anyone, but sometimes it cannot be avoided.
Our aversion to flying is partly a simple old-fashioned phobia – we are strictly terra firma people, and as the old joke goes the firma the ground the less terra we feel – but modernity has also done much to make the experience ever more unpleasant. There are all the annoyances of that have been diligently added by the Transportation Safety Administration, of course, but also a number of indignities resulting from the democratization of airline travel.
At this late date there is no use complaining about the politically correct but logically indefensible policies of the TSA, but the right to do is included in the high cost of a ticket and we will therefore avail ourselves of the opportunity. Just before the security checkpoint we noticed a large display of items that are not allowed on board an airliner, which ranged from a hand grenade to a normal-sized can of shaving cream, and although the prohibition on hand grenades seemed sensible enough we could not fathom what threat our container of Barbasol Beardbuster might pose to our fellow passengers. Nor could we see any reason why we should be required to remove our shoes before being allowed on the plane, as they are ordinary footwear of little destructive force. We recall that several years ago somebody had weaponized a pair of sneakers he wore onto a plane, quite ineffectively as it turned out, but we also recall from the grainy press photos that he was conspicuously deranged-looking and of one of the more terrorism-inclined ethnicities, so we see no reason that TSA agents shouldn’t be allowed some discretion in deciding whose sneakers warrant further investigation.
The passenger arbitrarily singled out for more intensive scrutiny was a petite 50-something woman who looked to be of Native American ancestry, so she could hardly be accused of being a damn foreigner, and there was nothing about her demeanor that aroused our suspicions. She endured the groping and fondling and untoward wand-wavings of the TSA agents with the same resigned stoicism that her fellow passengers displayed when partly disrobing at the checkpoint, and although this is the pragmatic response to such nonsense we hope that the traveling public will eventually grow more restive. Not on our flight, of course, as that would cause insufferable delays, but at some point when we are happily ensconced at home.
Those TSA agents have become more efficient in harassing the people they are charged to protect, at least, and in short course we were on board the plane and heading towards Denver. Even the most casual students of American geography will immediately note that the quickest route from Wichita, Kansas, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, does not go through Denver, Colorado, but such detours are the burden of flyers from mid-sized cities with few direct flights to anywhere. The itinerary required a long hike through the immense Denver airport to another boarding gate some 50 or 60 miles away, or so it seemed, and took us through what looked to be an upscale shopping mall teeming with downscale customers. Our idealized notions of airline travel were formed back when George Jones and Tammy Wynette were proudly singing “We’re Not the Jet Set” as proof of their proletarian bona fides, but these days the jet set apparently includes even George’s and Tammy’s most beer-bellied and under-dressed fans. Everyone was talking on cell phones and hauling the latest in wheeled luggage, with that very self-important look that people have when engaging in such formerly elite behaviors, but clearly the glamour has gone from air travel. The inside of our plane to Philadelphia could have easily been mistaken for a Greyhound bus to Tucumcari, New Mexico, during the Dust Bowl, and we think we might have even spotted a carry-on goat or two, so it should not be surprising that airplane have largely disappeared from popular song ever since Merle Haggard sang “Silver Wings” all those years ago.
Having taken the precaution of staying up very late prior to our early morning departure from Wichita, which was made all the earlier by the irrational demands of the TSA, we managed to snooze through most of the flying. After an even longer hike through the even larger Philadelphia airport we were greeted by our Okie parents who have somehow turned into big-city Pennsylvanians. We have since commenced a week of family reunion and thanksgiving, and expect it will be well worth the trouble. It might even yield a few interesting posts on this strange and vexing part of the world, but if not we’ll try to think of something else to say.

— Bud Norman

How to Handle a Scandal

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reportedly suffered a concussion after fainting from dehydration as a result of a stomach virus. We wish her a speedy recovery from this literally dizzying succession of misfortunes, and hope it will be even speedier than she would probably prefer.
Whatever discomfort Clinton has endured as a result of her ill health, she no doubt finds it more tolerable than the torture that awaits when she at long last gets around to testifying before a Senate committee that’s been poking into the deaths of four Americans at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya last Sept. 11. Clinton’s recent maladies have caused a second postponement of her testimony on the matter, prompting some more suspicious minds to demand a look at her doctor’s note, but if Clinton’s conveniently timed complaints are indeed a subterfuge they are at least a more tear-jerking excuse than the previously scheduled wine-tasting party in Australia that precluded an earlier scheduled appearance before the committee.
Perhaps it would have been better for the Secretary if she’d made that date, before the release of an independent panel’s report that “Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” The report also states that the attack was a carefully planned terror operation and not the result of a spontaneous demonstration, which is quite different than what Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration repeatedly told the American public, and Republicans on in the investigating committee say they have even more questions. One hopes they might ask why the administration chose to scapegoat an American who had exercised his constitutional rights by making an anti-Islamic video, for instance, and even harder questions about the whole tawdry affair await Clinton’s response.
Rather than enduring further concussions, which we are told causes suicidal tendencies in professional football players, Clinton would be well advised to go right and ahead and appear before the committee at the earliest possible date. Once there, the most effective strategy would be to simply deny everything. We don’t merely mean that she should deny responsibility for what happen, but that she should deny anything happened at all.
Why was security so lax in a country that America had bombed into a state of anarchy? Oh, but it wasn’t. The security was top-notch, tighter than an Academy Awards after-party. Why, then, were an ambassador and three other Americans killed? Sorry, no idea what you’re talking about. The ambassador was just on the phone, and offered his assurances that all is well in Libya and the people there are highly supportive of the White House. What about the father of the Navy SEAL who killed, and his claim that you promised to imprison a filmmaker as retribution? The poor man must be delusional.
Clinton’s Republican interrogators would be sputtering at that point, demanding to know how she could deny something so plainly, but anyone who can recall her “vast right-wing conspiracy” explanation for her husband’s philandering knows she’s an old hand at standing steadfast in the face of facts. So long as she keeps her chin upraised in the familiar gesture of liberal nobility, she could even maintain her presumption of moral superiority as she does it. Should the Republicans point out that she was seen on television at the ambassador’s memorial service, she can simply roll her eyes and say with sufficient sarcasm, “Oh yeah, where did you see that? On Fox?”
Audacious as it might seem, the ploy would probably work. The Democrats on the committee would no doubt go along with it, feigning indignation that their Republican colleagues continue to insist on disparaging the president with their racist paranoid fantasies, and much of the media will happily seize the opportunity to report that high-ranking administration officials have confirmed that there’s nothing to see here in this so-called Benghazi tragedy. An electoral majority of the country has already concluded that the deaths of four brave Americans, the subsequent lies, and the abrogation of an American citizen’s free speech rights are no big deal, and so long as the government keeps printing and borrowing enough money to cover the checks a similar number will be quite content to believe that nothing has gone wrong.
Similar pretending about the stalled economy, the looming debt crisis, and the increasing global disorder have prevailed over reality for the past four years. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t keep the Benghazi story on the back pages.

— Bud Norman

Where the Buck Stops

As the tragedy that occurred in Libya on Sept. 11 becomes an ever greater embarrassment for the Obama administration, the administration’s excuses become ever more desperate.

The latest official line was trotted out in last week’s vice presidential debate when Joe Biden, in between his constant snorts, sighs, and rude interruptions, attempted to deflect the blame onto the State Department for failing to inform the president of repeated requests from the ambassador for more security and onto the House Republicans for cutting for the State Department’s security budget. Obama’s remaining supporters should hope that he comes up with something better for tonight’s debate, because neither argument is convincing.

Even as Biden was pleading Republican-imposed poverty as the reason for the fiasco, we were wondering if the money allocated for security was insufficient or merely misspent according to naïve notions about the Middle East. There were already reports that the Marines were denied ammunition to guard the Egyptian embassy, which had been attacked and trashed by an Islamist mob the same day as the murderous assault in Libya, and it seemed unlikely that the budget was so niggardly that it couldn’t afford a few bullets. Since then the story has proved even more improbable, as we’ve learned that the State Department’s security budget is twice what it was a decade ago, and that there was an extra $2 billion sitting around in the agency coffers earmarked for embassy security. In another example of the administration’s questionable priorities, we’ve also learned that there was enough money in the State Department’s budget to purchase a $108,000 charging station for one embassy’s newly purchased Chevy Volt.

Nor are we impressed with Biden’s claim that the fault lies not with the president but rather with the woman that he appointed to oversee the State Department. Although Hillary Clinton has dutifully accepted responsibility for the failure to provide the necessary security, surely Obama deserves some blame for putting her in charge. Nor does Clinton’s soldierly mea culpa change the fact that she and Obama, as well as several other administration officials, continued to peddle the story that a virtually unknown low-budget video had caused the tragedy, a bald-faced lie that resulted in the imprisonment of a filmmaker and yet another blow to the invaluable tradition of free speech.

Perhaps Obama will be so bold as the reiterate that argument advanced by campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who has claimed that the death of an American ambassador and three of his brave countrymen in a terror attack by a group supposedly vanquished by the administration would be of no interest to anyone if not for the nitpicking of Mitt Romney. There might be something to that, but if so the country has bigger problems any presidential candidate can possibly remedy.

— Bud Norman