A Soft Opening in Kansas

Compared to many other places in America and around the world, Kansas has largely been spared the worst of the coronavirus. As we write this there are 4,238 confirmed cases and there have been 129 deaths, which is horrible to contemplate but not nearly so bad as what other states have suffered.
There’s no way of telling for sure, but our relatively good results might well have something to do the measures our governor took early on in the crisis. She was the first governor to close all the schools, and among the first to shut down a variety of businesses and gathering places, and several Kansas county and municipal governments followed with similar restrictions. Many critics call the shutdown an overreaction, and there’s no way of telling for sure if they were wrong, but even in such a conservative and liberty-loving and traditionally Republican state as this our Democratic governor currently enjoys betters approval rating ratings than our Republican president.
The restrictions are undeniably irksome, and have some very outspoken if perhaps outnumbered opponents. Kansas has it share of that Gadsen-flag-waving and gun-toting type of self-described patriots who hate America’s government and many of its longstanding institutions and a vast majority of their fellow citizens, and they’ve been particularly irked. Some of them are our Facebook friends, so we daily read their grousing that the harm done to the state’s economy and the liberty of its citizens cannot be justified by a few thousands sickened people and just over 100 deaths. They’re convince they’re immune to the virus and certainly immune to the argument that the toll has been so low because of the measures that were taken, and given the lack of any way to definitively proof that they’ll forever be convinced they’re right.
We doubt they’ll be placated, but Thursday Gov. Laura Kelly took the rare step of interrupting the game shows scheduled for the state’s television station and announced the was beginning a four-phased “soft opening” of the state in the coming months, with hopes that everything will be back to normal in time for the Winfield bluegrass festival and the State Fair and the statewide elections and all the other traditional early fall activities.
The first step starts today, and it’s very tentative, basically allowing restaurants to once again offer table service if they limit their customers to point they can all be “socially distanced” according to federal guidelines, and to allow churches to resume services under similar conditions. The ban on religious services was especially controversial in this more church-going than usual state, and wound up being bitterly fought in the legislature and the courts, but our very conservative and church most churches in the state stopped gathering on Sundays and Wednesdays even before the state required they do so.
Our church has such a small congregation and a such a big building that we might be able to resume worshipping together soon, and in the meantime we’re getting weekly phone calls and e-mails from our fellow congregants and are scheduled to have a gift package dropped on porch today. It looks like it will be a while longer, however, before we can get together with the gang at the Kirby’s Beer Store and quaff a beer and watch “Jeopardy!” and listen to rock ‘n’ roll and life in Kansas gets fully back to normal. That’s damned irksome, but we figure our chances of surviving that are better than our chances of surviving a coronavirus infection.
Kansas has had “clusters” of infections at the meat packing plants that are a big chunk of the state economy and crucial component of the food supply chain that’s somehow kept America fed, as well as nursing homes and in the Lansing State Penitentiary, where the inmates rioted over a lack of health care and the state’s National Guard is helping keep order and conducting testing and provide care, so we could have done better. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including President Donald Trump and all the national and global institutions he’s trying to blame, but we think our state has done fairly well even if there’s no telling for sure.
For now we’ll try to keep sheltering in place and only venture out for essential supplies and to drive around on inexpensive gasoline and enjoy the gorgeous Wichita and Kansas scenery. We don’t mind risking our lives but don’t want to risk any other Kansan’s, and it seems the patriotic thing to do.

— Bud Norman

A Rainy Day of Gloomy News

Wednesday’s weather here in Wichita was rainy and chilly and gray, so there was little to do in a shut down city than stay at home and read the equally gloomy news.
One prominent story was about the forced departure of scientist Richard Bright from his head post at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which Bright said was prompted by his public warning that “government should invest the billions of of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that that lack scientific merit.” One needn’t have a Ph.D. in immunology, as Bright does, to know that he was talking about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that President Donald Trump and the prime time lineup of Fox News opinion show hosts have touted as a cure for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine has proved effective against malaria and other diseases, but no studies have shown it can cure Covid-19 and recent studies have suggested it can cause fatal heart arrhythmia in patients suffering from that disease. Trump has a tendency to defenestrate anyone who dares publicly disagree with him, and officials ranging from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former national security advisor H.R. McMaster to the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt have all been ousted not for the mistakes they made rather for things they did right. The president’s penchant for dismissing not only expertise but the experts themselves is especially worrisome in the time of a global pandemic that is killing thousands of Americans each day.
In happier story, Trump was apparently persuaded to criticize the Republican governor of Georgia for lifting all the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in that state earlier than what the consensus of expert opinion recommends. Trump hasn’t recanted his advice to protestors in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “LIBERATE” their states from restrictions imposed by the Democratic governors of those states, but his willingness to criticize a Republican governor is nonetheless encouraging. It’s most likely a preemptive move to avoid blame for the outbreak of new coronavirus cases that is almost certain to ensure, but at least he’s listening to knowledgable advisors rather than trusting his gut instincts for a change.
Elsewhere in the news, Trump also stated that Naval officers are authorized to “shoot down” any Iranian ships that continue to harass the American fleet. Trump apparently isn’t hep to military lingo, in which you “shoot down” enemy aircraft and “sink” enemy vessels, but otherwise we can’t criticize the statement. Longstanding policy allows American ships to defend themselves against any imminent deadly threat, but Trump was probably wise to emphasize it to the erratic Iranian mullahcracy. The story got bottom-of-the-page coverage because the top of the page is all about the coronavirus, but it is related to the extent that the Iranians might have decided to exploit America’s current preoccupation with coronavirus to harass American ships. There are already conspiracy theories on the left that Trump is itching for a war with Iran to divert attention from his handling of the coronavirus, but we doubt it, as Trump was eager to run for reelection on a peace-and-prosperity pitch and would like to have at least one of the two to brag about come November.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also made headlines by telling a radio interviewer that he’d rather let states running debts dealing with coronavirus while their economies are collapsing as a result of the epidemic declare bankruptcy rather than receive more federal aid. Trump and numerous other Republicans quickly disagreed, another encouraging development, but it was another reminder of the expensively unprecedented mess the country is currently in.
Via Facebook we learned that one of our favorite people is losing her brave battle against pancreatic cancer, and there were no baseball box scores to pore over, so it was a rather desultory day. Our Okie relatives on Facebook shared a picture from Tuesday of a tornado with a rainbow clearly visible in the background, so we’ll take some hope in that and try to get a good sleep and wake up this afternoon to a better day.

— Bud Norman

Looking Months Ahead with Dread

The bad news about coronavirus keeps piling up. Yesterday was the deadliest day of the pandemic in America, far surpassing the records that had been set the prior day and the day before that, and in the past month more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs to push the unemployment rate to the highest since the Great Depression.
Given a scandalous lack of testing to identify infected persons and high risk areas and quarantine them, America has wound up quarantining pretty much everyone except for the mostly low wage workers deemed “essential.” This is the cause of economic calamity that is under way, and it’s also an onerous burden for everyone who’s putting up with. We freely admit that it’s driving us quite stir crazy, and the weird-even-by-Kansas standards weather we’ve be having lately is making it downright intolerable.
No surprise, then, that resistance to the stay-at-home orders prevailing in most of the country is increasing. There was a huge protest rally in Lansing, Michigan, and another one in Columbus, Ohio, this week to protest that state’s very strict orders, as well as smaller ones in capitals of Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Although President Donald Trump has lately followed the experts’ advice to go along with the shutdowns for now, he’s been conspicuously reluctant about it and is clearly eager to get back to normal sooner rather than later, and the protests all have the feel of a Trump campaign rally. Lots of Trump-Pence and Make America Again signs, American and Confederate flags, along with chants of “lock her up!”
This is also unsurprising, given the anti-government instincts of the current Republican party. Trump’s upset victory in the Electoral College was largely a result of the white inland working class resentments to the dictates of those pointy-headed intellectuals Back East and those know-it-all Hollywood hippies and high-tech socialists on the West Coast. The worst of the coronavirus problem is predictably happening in the densely populated cities that deprived Trump of a popular vote victory, and to a lot of people in the vast but sparsely populated areas that delivered Trump’s Electoral College win it doesn’t seem fair that they’re stuck at home watching “Tiger King” and sports re-runs.
Those elite coastal liberals are indeed an insufferably condescending bunch, and given the current Democratic Party’s enthusiasm for bossy government there’s something to be said for the Republicans’ principled libertarianism. Even in this strange times, as a general rule we still agree with Walt Whitman’s sage advice to “Resist much, obey little.” They seem to have an especially strong case in Michigan, where hundreds have died in the state’s mostly densely populated city and the hospitals are struggling to care for the sick, but the shutdown order has such arbitrary and counterproductive measures as banning sale of garden seeds, which might be need for the “Victory Gardens” that got America through World War II, as well as such items as paint and carpet being sold in stores still allowed to be open.
Even so, we’ll be mostly staying at home and trying to somehow remain sane for the duration, and hope that most of the Americans who can do so will as well. This is partly because the state and county authorities have left us with nowhere to go except the grocery and liquor stories, but as free citizens we’re voluntarily not dropping in on any of our much-missed friends for more selfless reasons. We’ve always been fatalistic about death, and after so many weeks of our own company now seems as good a time as any, but we’d hate to we don’t want to bring any harm to any other human we might come within six feet from.
There’s been a recent outbreak in one of South Dakota’s bigger cities, with most of the victims working at the same packing plant that provides a big chunk of America’s pork, and the Red States of Georgia and Louisiana and Indiana and the swing state of Florida are also hot spots. There are at least a few infections even in the most remote regions, and given the exponential way the virus spreads and the paltry health care resources in those locations that’s nothing to sneeze at, if you’ll forgive the morbid joke. Given the healthy suspicion of authority that beats on both the right and left sides of the American heart, we expect that most Americans won’t necessarily come out of the house go back to work when Trump tells them. Most will await the all-clear from the doctors with more expertise in epidemiology Trump or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or some YouTube conspiracy theorist.
Not so very long ago the Republican Party used to win presidential elections with a coalition of pissed off white working guys, more educated and affluent white suburbanites both male and female, and the big corporations that provided employment and health care and retirement plans to a big chunk of them. The white working guys are still pissed off and waving Trump signs, convinced that Trump has done everything right and bears no responsibility for the current catastrophe, but there are only so many of them. Those snooty suburban Republicans-in-Name-Only were abandoning the GOP in droves in special and mid-term elections even before the United States was the most coronavirus-infected country in the world, and with their stock portfolios are down by a lot, and they have a tendency to consume a variety of news sources, many of which make a convincing case Trump didn’t do everything right, so we can imagine many of them voting for a damned Democrat.
As for corporate America, Trump doesn’t seem to have it on board for an early resumption of business. Trump announced a roster of big time executives who had joined his economic recovery team, many of whom hadn’t yet been asked to join, and during a day of conference calls with them he heard some flattery but mostly warnings that they wouldn’t be able to get back to business until the coronavirus had been contained by far more testing and a vaccine and a cure. This is unlikely to happen in the next four weeks or so, but corporate America seems willing to wait it out rather than risk the lives of its employees and customers and all the lawsuits that would surely entail if getting back to business spiked rather than slowed the rate of infection and death.
No matter the economic or public health benefits of quick return to economic normalcy — we’re no experts on either matter — Trump’s apparent political strategy seems flaws. To whatever extent Trump tries to hasten the great reopening of America’s big and beautiful economy, he’s taking a calculated risk. If the death tolls climbs further into the tens of thousands the public might well conclude that a few upticks in the stock markets and downticks in the unemployment rate weren’t worth it. If he does the economy will continue to sink, and everyone is still stuck at home through the summer and into Election Day that’s also bad for Trump.
With nothing but sarcasm intended, we’re consoled that Trump will act in the best interests of the people rather than his own self-interest. When it comes down to those risky calculations presidents must make, we’ll try to forget that he went bankrupt six times in the casino business, and trust his word that we’ll soon be tired of winning.

— Bud Norman

Hunkering Down for the Long Haul

As if an Easter spent alone wasn’t depressing enough, the weather around here was awful. A bitter cold wind was shaking all the trees, the sky was a gloomy gray, and for a short while there was even snow. No one is more eager than we are end the shutdown of public life, but we hope it doesn’t so soon that it causes more deaths.
President Donald Trump had expressed a hope that the churches would be packed on Easter and the country would be “raring to go” by today, but of course that didn’t happen. Now Trump is hoping to reopen the country on May Day, but the same experts who talked him out of the Easter reopening are warning that date might also be premature. The shutdown has slowed the spread of the coronavirus, but it hasn’t yet stopped it, and that might well take a frustrating amount of time.
The impulse to hurry the reopening of the country is understandable, given the catastrophic damage the shutdown has done to the economy and the psychological toll it is taking on many Americans. Trump is eager to win reelection, and he’s right to note that voters are more likely to know one of the 17 million Americans who have lost their jobs than one of the more than 22,000 Americans who have died of coronavirus or even the half-million who have been sickened by it.
Many of Trump’s most outspoken supporters have taken to criticizing the medical experts who are urging caution, especially Dr. Anthony Fauci, but recent polling suggests the public has more faith in experts in general and Fauci in particular than it does in Trump. Fauci has recently become more outspoken about his differences of opinion with Trump, which will no doubt escalate the attacks on him, but Trump will likely have to put up with it for a while, as firing Fauci would be disastrous to his reelection chances.
The country is eager to get back to business, but it seems a majority don’t want that to happen until it be done without getting someone they killed. If Trump can get more people tested and hospitals better equipped to deal with the current crisis the happy day that’s clear might come sooner rather than later, but until then most Americans will endure hardships rather than sacrifice their own lives or those of their fellow citizens.
As hard as it is, which is damned hard, that’s where we’re at.

— Bud Norman

The Cold Calculations of Here and Now

No one is more eager than we are for the country to get back to something like normal, as this stay-at-home-with-nowhere-to-go social distancing stuff is already driving us quite stir crazy, but we can’t share President Donald Trump’s optimism that he’ll be able to announce all is well and we can all come out of hiding and get back to business as usual by Easter. Easter is just 19 days off, and current trends suggest that by then the coronavirus will be exponentially more widespread than it is now.
Even so, Trump is ignoring the advice of the government’s most expert epidemiologists and hoping that churches will be packed on Easter and everyone will be back at work the next day. He figures Easter is well past the 15-day period he’s been hoping will suffice since he started taking the coronavirus seriously, and adds that Easter is a very important day to him. Trump is what we weekly worshippers sometimes call a “Chreaster,” meaning the sort of Christian who only attends services at Christmastime and on Easter, so we’ll not question the sincerity of his religiosity.
We do suspect, however, that Trump also has other motivations. Shutting down bars and restaurants and theaters and sports and travel and large gatherings while having everyone stay at home is disastrously bad for business, including Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, as stock market indexes and unemployments claims clearly demonstrate, and Trump had hoped to run for reelection by boasting to the large gatherings at his campaign rallies about the record stock market highs and unemployment lows he had until the coronavirus came along. Continuing the current caution for weeks or even months past Easter might well spare an untold number of deaths, but there might well be severe economic repercussions to prolonging the status quo, and Trump now repeatedly argues that “We cannot let the disease be worse than the cure.”
Trump seems to have learned the phrase from a fellow who appeared on Fox News the night before Trump started using it, and much of the Trump-friendly media are already repeating it to bolster an argument that is coldly calculating yet deserving of careful consideration. An economic cataclysm might very well cause as many deaths and as much human misery as any pandemic, the argument goes, and those costs must be weighed against whatever deaths and misery that might be spared by everyone staying home until the crisis has passed. We weigh the benefits of automobile travel against the bigger-than-coronavirus number of deaths and human misery it causes every year, after all, and as a society have decided in favor of automobile travel, and in times of war and pestilence civilization our society have coldly and calculatingly made all sorts of similarly difficult decisions.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is also chairman of Trump’s Texas reelection campaign, says he’d be willing to risk dying of coronavirus if it meant his grandchildren could inherit Trump’s robust economy, and many of Trump’s supporters seem just as committed to the argument. Still, we don’t find it entirely convincing.
The coldly calculating types can go right ahead and accuse us of being too warm-heated and wimpy, but we weigh heavily the lives lost and human misery that might very well occur if the current precautions are prematurely lifted. We can’t deny the economic repercussions of more prolonged precautions, which are already apparent and painful to everyone, but we’re looking beyond the next news cycle and election day and wondering how the economy might fare after a cataclysmic plague. Yesterday the stock markets reacted to the possibility of a big deficit-spending stimulus package getting passed with the biggest day on Wall Street since 1933, and although that was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression it suggests that big government might once again muddle us through death and human misery as we stay at home and watch out for the old folks.
Trump has a different perspective, though, and from his cold and calculating way of looking at things Easter might well be the best time for the miraculous rebirth of the Trump economy. For now most of the mounting deaths of the coronavirus are predictably in populous urban states that Trump wouldn’t have won in any case, so he can blame their Democratic governments for the death toll, and the minority of the national population in the electoral majority of the states he won last time around are staying at home with nowhere to go despite low local infection and mortality rates and becoming quite stir crazy. Depending on the death tolls and economic data between now and November, which are hard to foresee, it might just work.
For now Trump seems to be discounting the advice of America’s most expert epidemiologists, who have clearly annoyed him with their televised differences of opinion, and is trusting the gut instincts he prides himself on, which has resulted in several casino bankruptcies and numerous other failed businesses and marriages, but has always somehow left him coming out ahead. There’s no telling how it works out for America and the rest of the world, or how the sooner-or-later election between the damned Republican and the damned Democratsis resolved, but we’re holding out hope for ourselves and our families and friends and all of you and yours, no matter what side you take.

— Bud Norman

Life in Pandemic Times

Today is the first day of spring, and the local weather forecast here in Wichita is for temperatures in the 70s, and the trees in our picturesque Riverside neighborhood are starting to come alive, which is all good news. The forecasts have the temperatures falling below freezing and nipping all those buds over the weekend, though, and everything else seems to be bad news.
The coronavirus pandemic and its resulting panic have the stock markets and every other measure of the  economy in a free fall, all of the schools in Kansas are closed, and worse yet the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, where we watch “Jeopardy!” and discuss the issues of the day with our friends is now shut down indefinitely. Our beloved Dad, the best man we’ve ever known, is currently in the health care ward of his retirement home due to non-coronavirus reasons and we can’t visit him because of a lockdown, and although we had a face-to-face encounter the other day with our beloved Mom, the best woman we’ve ever known, we had to give her an “elbow bump” rather than a much-needed hug.
Things are bad all over lately, and there’s no telling when it will get better, but we’re hanging on, and holding out hope. We have no expertise in epidemiology or anything like that, but we’re advising the friends we mostly meet on Facebook to be careful but not panic. There’s no holding back spring, even if it brings tornados and no baseball, and sunny summer days are sure to follow. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy it.

— Bud Norman

Of Parades, Nicknames, and Other Political Spats

The stock markets were down again on Wednesday, but not to a panic-inducing extent, and the more reasonable sorts of Democrats and Republicans in Congress neared a compromise that would avert another government shutdown before tonight’s latest looming deadline, albeit a budget-busting one that neither side can celebrate. All in all it was a pretty slow news day, but as usual President Donald Trump provided plenty of what the newspaper people call filler.
Trump’s critics were able to fill countless column inches and big chunks of the 24-hour cable news cycle criticizing the Commander in Chief’s order for a grand military parade showcasing America’s might down Pennsylvania Avenue past the fancy Trump Hotel, and his most die-hard defenders couldn’t muster much of a defense for the idea. The District of Columbia’s city hall is worried about the damage that tanks and nuclear missiles might do to their expensively paved streets, and pretty much all the newspapers and all but one of the cable news networks had no shortage of retired generals and admirals saying on the record that it seemed a damned stupid deployment of tanks and nuclear missiles. Several of the more old-fashioned Republicans left in the party also opined that America has such an impressively big military stick that everyone already knows it, so it’s best to speak softly about it, unlike those envious regimes in North Korea and Iran and France and other godforsaken nations that routinely parade their relatively puny military hardware.
Even our Pop, a proud former Air Force officer and longstanding member of the military-industrial complex who’s an at-least-he’s-not-Hillary Trump supporter, admitted over lunch that the whole parade idea “sounds a little third-worldly.” The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters will insist that the Commander in Chief merely wants to pay tribute to America’s fighting forces, and anyone who has objections to that is objectively un-American and arguably treasonous, but by now no one else doubts that like everything else the parade is more about Trump and his big stick than it is about anything or anyone else.
Meanwhile, on a slow news day we notice that Trump seems to be losing the nickname wars he’s long waged. He’s lately “tweeted” that New York Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on that pesky House committee looking into the “Russia thing,” is “Little” Adam Schiff, a diminutive description he’s previously bestowed on fellow Republican and Florida Sen. “Little” Marco Rubio, and although he creatively spelled  the Republican Tenessee Sen. Bob Corker as “Liddle Bob,” it’s starting to get stale. Around the same time Illinois’ Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth more damningly nicknamed Trump “Cadet Bonespur,” an apparently jocular reference to the military school Trump’s Pop sentenced him to and the spurious — if you’ll forgive the pun — medical condition that spared Trump from service in the Vietnam War but didn’t seem to interrupt his tennis and golf games and the constant womanizing he jokingly described as his own “personal Vietnam.”
That might seem a cheap shot at a sitting president, but in Duckworth’s case it’s undeniably been hard-earned. She made the remark in response to Trump’s jocular remark about treasonous Democrats failing to sufficiently applaud his State of the Union address, and although we disagree with most of her Democratic politics we can well understand why she resents “Cadet Bonespur” even jokingly impugning her patriotism for insufficient applause, She lost both legs in the Iraq War she willingly signed up for. Even Trump won’t dare “tweet” back that he likes a soldier who didn’t lose her legs for her country, even though he got away with similar disrespect for the heroic wartime sacrifices of Arizona[‘s Republican Sen. John McCain. Worse yet, Trump’s former die-hard defenders at Breitbart.com and on some of the right-wing talk radio shows are now calling him “Amnesty Don” because of his most recent stands on illegal immigration, and it’s going to take some pretty clever nicknaming to counter-punch that.
At this point we hold out hope Trump seems so ridiculous that the stock market will absorb a much-needed correction without panic and the rest of the economy will chug along without him, that the more reasonable sorts of Democrats and Republicans will come up with some desultory but veto-proof agreement to at least keep the government limping along, and that the filler will prove just as entertaining.

— Bud Norman

Strange Bedfellows

Try as we might, we can’t make any sense of this so-called “Cromnibus” budget deal that might or might not have been passed and signed into law by the time you read this. None of the smart publications that had confidently reported it would pass in routine fashion seem to be able to make any of sense of it, or even explain why it has been called “Cromnibus,” and of course no one in congress has offered a plausible explanation for what’s going on. We suspect there just isn’t much sense to be made of it.
Still, it makes for an interesting spectacle. The $1.1 trillion, 1,600-page bill was said to be a bipartisan compromise with something for everyone to like, just what all the pundits are saying the public is yearning for, so of course some on both sides of the aisle found something to dislike. Conservatives had no problem finding plenty to hate among the $1.1 trillion and 1,600 pages, including such outrages as a year’s worth of money to continue implementing the wildly unpopular Obamacare law at whatever pace the president chooses and a couple of month’s of funding for the Department of Homeland Security of all people to carry out the president’s unwise and unconstitutional and even more wildly unpopular decree to grant amnesty to several million illegal immigrants. Liberals had to dig deeper into such a complete Republican capitulation to find something they didn’t like, but eventually came up with a a couple of provisions that would amend the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law to allow federally-insured banks to trade in certain sorts of derivatives in some convoluted way or another and increased the limits on campaign contributions. This was sufficient for a minority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats to hold up passage of the bill in the House until late Thursday night, and a similar coalition might also prove troublesome in the Democrat-controlled Senate today.
This unlikely convergence of the rabid Tea Party right and loony left-wing progressives is fun to watch, at least, and one can hope that it might even save the country from all the stupid ideas that are found in the moderate middle and therefore funded by the bill. In any event, it has at least revealed some interesting fissures within both parties. House Speaker John Boehner was using whatever clout he has left with his party to win passage of the bill, but his promises to start getting tough about illegal immigration once the calvary of the soon-to-be-installed Republican majority in the Senate is installed and that couple of months of funding for DHS has passed was not believed by the party’s base , who flooded the congressional phone lines and stiffened the spines of the numerous Republicans who voted no. The president also used whatever clout he has left with his party to win passage of the bill, which didn’t stop the Associated Press from describing how that Republicans had “muscled” the bill through the House, but among those who ignored his advice were the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and Rep. Maxine Waters from the same Compton that Niggaz With Attitude came straight outta. Leading the Democratic charge against the bill in the upper chamber is Massachusetts’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is widely touted as a more left-wing alternative to Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee, and it will be fascinating to find out what would-be presidential candidates among the Republicans will buck the GOP’s increasingly reviled leadership.
The best guess is that the lousy deal winds up passing more or less intact, though, and that what’s left of the combined clout of the president and the Republican congressional leadership will prevail. The alternative seems to be not funding the government at all, which for some reason remains even more unpopular that a lousy deal full of Obamacare and illegal immigrants and those nasty bankers and big-money donors getting their way. The Republicans took a hit in the polls with the last government shutdown, even if it had happily dissipated by the time the mid-term elections rolled around, and that was over something as comprehensibly outrageous as Obamacare, so they’ll pull out all the stops to make sure that doesn’t happen again even if it’s about something more comprehensibly outrageous than those millions of illegal immigrants. The Democrats’ fondness for government makes even the most limited and unnoticeable government shutdowns unthinkable, and we can’t see them taking the responsibility for a government shutdown over something incomprehensible and probably sensible as allowing federally-insured banks to trade in certain sorts of derivatives according to some convoluted system.
The fissures will remain, though, and it will be interesting to see what seismic rumblings they produce once the lame duck congress has been retired. Rep. Waters told her fellow delegates “don’t be intimidated by Obama,” showing some attitude of her own, and we expect the president will be increasingly un-intimidating to many other Democrats as his final term plays out and his poll numbers dip with every veto of a popular bill passed by the Republican congress. If the Republican leadership doesn’t get those bills passed, and do a far better job of thwarting the president’s authority and dismantling his legislative legacy than they’v done in this lame duck session, challenging their authority will not only be easy but necessary for political survival from the pitchfork-bearing base.

— Bud Norman

Gaining From a Bad Deal

Good policy is good politics, according to an old saying, and like most old sayings it is often but not always true. The congressional Republican’s cowardly capitulation to a “clean” debt ceiling deal on Wednesday might prove one of the frequent exceptions to the rule.
No real Republican would argue that the deal isn’t disastrously bad policy. The legislation basically hands a blank check to the most profligate president in history, guaranteeing the nation’s debt will rise to a staggering $17.2 trillion just after November’s mid-term elections, and achieves nothing in the way of much needed spending cuts or any other curbs on a government rapidly and clumsily expanding into every niche of American life. Although the party leadership and the minority of Republican congressman who followed them argue will that the deal guarantees the full faith and credit of the federal government, an increasingly restive conservative base will not be convinced that adding yet another $512 billion dollars of debt over the next few months is the most fiscally responsible course of action.
Nor can the Republicans point to any immediate political advantages gained from the deal. Indeed, the more prominent media are gleefully quoting the Democrats’ gloating that the deal represents a total defeat for the Republicans in general and their more rock-ribbed Tea Party constituents in particular. House Speaker John Boehner, whose hold on the house speakership grows more tenuous with each passing offense to the party’s most essential voters, couldn’t even win the inclusion of an amendment to rescind some previous unpopular budget cuts to veterans’ benefits that the Democrats probably could have been shamed into accepting. As the most outspoken opponent of the deal and the only Republican to attempt a filibuster Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was rewarded for his noble efforts by some of the most sneeringly disdainful press coverage of his already controversial career, and if the party leadership and its timid followers expected to be lauded by the pundits for their non-partisan willingness to compromise they have been sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, at least the Republicans aren’t being pilloried for their strident partisanship and stubborn refusal to compromise. That’s what happened every other time the Republicans tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for sensible reforms and essential spending restraint, with the damage done to the party’s popularity evident in all the subsequent opinion polls, and we will generously assume that the Republican leadership was merely trying to avoid yet another hit. Those talk radio hosts shrieking “damn the opinion polls, full steam ahead” are quite right to argue the public should be grateful for the Republicans’ efforts, that government shutdowns are a minor inconvenience at worst and a welcome break from bureaucratic meddling at best, that a federal default would not occur in any case, and that the eventual consequences of all that debt far outweigh any damage done by a protracted political squabble, but they are wrong to assume that an electoral majority of the country can be made to understand any of it.
A crucial percentage of voters pay too little attention to politics to hear these arguments, and even if the arguments were to somehow sneak into the news accounts that occasionally interrupt the average uninformed American’s day he would likely be unmoved. Government shutdowns always sound scary when the news anchors say it, the laws and constitutional requirements precluding default are as a confounding as the economic concepts involved, and the public has become inured to warnings about it since the Democrats started squawking about it back in the Reagan days. When the debt it called due and the inevitable economic calamity occurs it will be big news, but at the moment the weather is a far more pressing matter for the average American.
Unless the bottom falls out before November, the Republicans’ cowardly capitulation could provide them with a slight advantage in the mid-term elections. By that time the deal will be largely forgotten even by the talk radio hosts, who are already shrieking less loudly than after other Republican leadership outrages, and the majority of Republican congressman who opposed the deal will be able to remind their conservative voters that they at least voted “no.” The Democrats won’t have another unpopular showdown to blame on the Republicans, and they’ll still be remembered as the party that promised you could keep your health care plan if you liked it and then cancelled the policy and forced you to pay more money for one covering things you don’t want or need. To the extent that America’s dire fiscal situation is an election issue, even the most cowardly capitulators in the party can claim that they were forced to bankrupt the country by the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

A Good Reason for a Bad Deal

An un-civil war within the Republican Party rages on, with the latest battle being fought over a proposed budget deal.
The bargain was made by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, formerly a hero of the right, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, still a heroine of the left, but there is no such compromise among the various sorts of conservatives. All of the crazed anarchist Tea Party radicals, represented by such right-wing talk radio ranters as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, think the deal is a capitulation to Obama’s big spending leviathan of overreaching government, while the weak-kneed, lily-livered RINOs of the elitist back east establishment, represented by such traditional conservative print media as the National Review and the Weekly Standard, reckon the deal is as good as the Republicans are likely to get. Democrats are similarly split between the dope-addled progressives who long for the good old days of trillion dollar deficits and the Clintonian “third way” types who still feel obliged to give lip service to fiscal sanity, but they always seem to come together whenever there are Republicans to be vanquished, so the clash of caricatures in the GOP is getting all the attention.
Being crazed anarchist Tea Party radicals ourselves, but pragmatic and patient by temperament, we have sympathy for both sides of the Republican debate.
The deal is, without doubt, far less than we would hope for. It weakens the sequester budgets which, for all their faults, have been the only effective restraint on deficit spending during the Obama administration. The cuts that are included will take place in the future, meaning they might not happen at all, while the next two years leading up to the presidential election will see an increase in spending, which will certainly happen. There are tax increases, too, although mostly in the form of user fees, which are slightly more tolerable to a conservative sensibility than other means of taxation, and much of the savings is based on the dubious assumption that the government will start to do a better job of eliminating waste and fraud. Even if one accepts all the assumptions involved in the deal, it’s still light years away from the draconian budget cuts and thorough entitlement reforms needed to set the nation’s finances in some semblance of order.
It is a budget deal, however, and after five years of continuing resolutions that continually handed unprecedented power to a unfettered Obama administration almost any return to the constitutional appropriations process would represent an important improvement. Most of the increases in the sequester budget will go to national defense, still a cause dear to conservative hearts, and 92 percent of the sequester remains in place. Even with the increases in discretionary spending, the total budget for 2014 and 2015 will still be less than that the proposal that made Ryan a conservative hero and liberal villain right after the Republicans won the House in 2010. There are no income tax increases in the deal, which provides some much needed consternation to the Democrats, and without doubt it is far less than a liberal might hope for.
As much as we’d prefer a better deal, preferably one administered with a chain saw rather than scalpel, it is hard to see how that might be attainable at this unfortunate moment when Democrats control the Senate and the White House and the news and entertainment media. Republican hard-liners are urging the threat of another partial government shut-down, which wouldn’t inconvenience us or the national economy any more than the last one did, but that didn’t force any Democratic concessions then and it probably wouldn’t on the next try. Last time around it was the House that took the shut-down stand while the wise old Senators urged caution, while this time around the Senators are being threatened with primary challenges and are suddenly the more confrontational chamber, but in any case the Democrats will be just as happy to let their opponents take all the blame for whatever horror stories the networks are running on the evening news.
The hard-liners’ damn-the-polls-full-steam-ahead attitude has an undeniable appeal to us, but at a time when the Democrats’ poll numbers are sinking under the weight of Obamacare and all the other failures of Obamaism there is an equally irresistible temptation to sit back and let them take the blame for a change. Maybe we’re just tired out from all the political battles, or the wallpaper-stripping we’ve been doing for an old friend who bought a new home, but we’re inclined to take what we can get and rest up for another day. Both sides of the intra-party dispute have been intemperate in their squabble over an issue that most voters are too busy with Christmas shopping and National Football League games to care about, but if they can stave off self-destruction for another 11 months or so they have a good chance of making significant gains in next year’s mid-term elections that could make those planned cuts a reality. They might even use those gains to win more crucial victories in 2016.
One can only hope that it won’t be too late, but taking what we can get now might allow us to get what we want in the future.

— Bud Norman