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

Blaming the Victims

The first phase in dealing with an imminent doom, according to the famous Kübler-Ross “stages of grief” theory, is denial. The second phase, according to the Democratic Party’s playbook, is blaming the Republicans.
So it has gone with the slow, painful death of Obamacare. At first the Democrats were insistent that all was not only fine but also dandy with the health care reform law, but once even the morning newspapers and the late-night comics started kicking at the corpse that pretense has become impossible to maintain. Although the White House is still insisting that all is well, much like Kevin Bacon’s character in the climactic riot scene at the end of “Animal House,” the rest of the party has moved onto that necessary step of finding a suitable scapegoat.
The most reliable play in the party’s playbook is blaming George W. Bush, of course, but certain well-known facts make it difficult to execute in this case. Even the least informed of the low-information voters are aware that Obamacare is a creation of the Obama administration, with the very name being one obvious reminder of this fact, and the president has done too much bragging about it to deny responsibility now. The best minds of the liberal blogosphere are no doubt hard at work trying to contrive some plausible way to blame Bush, or at least Dick Cheney, but thus far the theory has not been unveiled.

There are a few other Republicans left in Washington, so the Democrats know which direction to point their fingers as they shout “j’accuse,” but the accusation requires a more fertile imagination than the average non-Democrat is likely to possess. Not a single Republican voted for Obamacare, not even a single one of those squishy RINO types from the northeast, and almost all of them have repeatedly reiterated their opposition in a series of votes to de-fund, delay, or downright repeal the hated law. To further exonerate the Republican Party, even as it enrages the rank-and-file, all of those votes have done nothing to obstruct the relentless implementation of the law.
This doesn’t prevent the Democrats from blaming Republican obstructionism for the law’s increasingly apparent problems, of course, nor does it diminish the Democrats’ indignation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most indignant politician ever, has accused the Republicans of “sabotage.” Former Vermont governor, Democratic National Committee chairman, and noted screamer Howard Dean has taken a similar line, saying the Republican have “thrown monkey wrenches” into the exquisite gear work of Obamacare. President Obama himself has accused the Republicans of “rooting for failure,” with a sports fan’s faith that rooting somehow affects the outcome of a game, and seems ready to fully shift the blame once he is at last forced to give up his denial.
A couple of explanations for the Republicans’ culpability are currently being auditioned before a friendly Democratic audience, which has been predictably receptive, but it remains to be seen if they will play to a wider audience.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has blamed the brief partial shutdown of the federal government, which he in turn blames on the Republicans, for the widely-reported failure of the Obamacare web site. This will no doubt seem quite convincing to any Democrats still eager for evidence that he partial shutdown of the federal government was a bad thing, but less-partisan observers will note that the web site’s disastrous launch coincided with the shutdown and it’s shoddy design by the Democratic-connected firm of Shemp, Curly, and Moe predated any thought of the shutdown by several years. Anyone gullible enough to believe this argument will need to apprised that there was a partial government shutdown, and brought up to speed on how it was the Republicans’ insane insistence on a one-year-delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate was responsible for the horrible consequences that no one noticed, and what an “individual mandate” is, and never mind that several Democratic Senators are now calling for its one-year delay, so it becomes a difficult argument to make.
The other Republicans to be blamed are the 26 governors who declined to set up Obamacare exchanges in their states, leaving the thankless chore to the federal government that had concocted the crazy idea, but this is also a hard sell. Here in Kansas the Democrats are seething that our very Republican Gov. Sam Brownback declined to create a state exchange, but they’re the same people who tell us that Obama is the most brilliant and virtuous person in the history of mankind and that Brownback is both moronic and venal, so it’s hard to see why they’d prefer to see the latter administering their health care than the former. All those Republican governors are said to be moronic and venal, but they don’t seem to have nearly the problems or done any of the damage that can be attributed to the allegedly brilliant and virtuous Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who did the job they declined.
Much of the public is predisposed to blame Republicans for anything that goes wrong, and the Democrats can always count on the supportive news and entertainment media to encourage that predisposition, but this time it’s going to require more extraordinary efforts. The Republicans didn’t design Obamacare’s slapstick web site, and were wise not to try, and even after the glitches and bugs and abysmal failures have been worked out the higher premiums, bigger deficits, decreased care, and increased bureaucratic nuttiness that was inherent in the law from the time every single Republican voted against it will become too check-writing clear to be denied or blamed on anyone but the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Silver Linings

How bad was the jobs report released on Tuesday? So bad that the unemployment rate went down by a fraction, the stock markets went up by a percent, and Democrats openly admitted their disappointment.
None of these seemingly positive developments should be mistaken for good news, however, given the currently convoluted nature of the American economy. The unemployment rate dropped only because many thousands more Americans gave up any hope of ever finding a job and joined the record number of economic drop-outs. The stock markets surged only because the jobs report was so dismal that it will almost certainly force the Federal Reserve to continue the incessant money-printing that has fueled the deceptive rally. Even the grudging acknowledgements of failure from the Democrats offers little solace, as it’s all a set-up to blaming the “sequester” budget cuts and the temporary partial government shutdown and other Republican perfidy.
An increasingly anxious American public isn’t likely to be misled about the state of the economy by obviously obfuscated unemployment numbers or obviously overpriced stock markets, but there’s always a good chance that that it will buy the part about Republican perfidy. Both the “sequester” and the partial government shutdown had little effect on most Americans, and went entirely unnoticed by almost all of the significant number of blissfully ignorant folks who avoid reading or hearing the news, but there’s a nasty ring to both of them that can be easily exploited. Any fair-minded observer would concede that the Democrats share at least some of the blame for both the “sequester” and shutdown, and that the currently dismal numbers come long after the former and before the latter, but the fair-minded are an insignificant voting bloc these days. One could make a strong argument that Obamacare, other excessive regulations, higher tax rates, growing governmental debt, and the ever more apparent incompetence of a government that daily acquires ever more control of the country have more to do with the sluggish economy than a slight cut in misspending or paid vacations for nonessential government workers, but strong arguments are easily countered by caricatured villains.
Should the Democrats succeed in their blame game, there’s really no good news in the jobs report at all. There are 148,000 new jobs, and we’re glad for that tiny minority of newly-hired workers, but that number is lower than the already-puny annual average and doesn’t offset the exodus of former job-seekers from the work force. At a time when good news is actually bad news we try to remain hopeful that the bad news presages the good news that the people will at last become fed up and try to reverse course, but the people might just agree that what’s required is more of the same.

— Bud Norman

Dancing in the End Zone

A certain amount of taunting and chest-thumping is now an almost obligatory rite of victory in America. This unfortunate trend can be seen in those silly minstrel shows that professional football players perform after every touchdown, in the anonymous trash-talking that is misspelled on the message boards of internet game sites, and lately even in remarks by the President of the United States.
In the aftermath of a perceived victory over the congressional Republicans in the government shutdown standoff, President Barack Obama was as sneering and snotty as an overly-tattooed power forward after a slam dunk when delivering a short speech on Thursday. “There are no winners here,” Obama said, but he had preceded that with a “Let’s be clear” that signaled he didn’t mean a word of it. His attitude throughout the speech was unmistakably triumphalist, albeit unaccountably angry for a putative winner, and he was not at all magnanimous toward his presumably vanquished opponents.
The president showed even less respect for the truth, peppering the speech with dizzying number of exaggerations, half-truths, and outright hogwash. He repeated the dubious claim that a government default would have inevitably followed the passing of the debt ceiling deadline, portrayed the largely unnoticed government shutdown as a major catastrophe, argued that the mere $600 billion budget deficit of the moment is proof of his fiscal rectitude rather than the restraint forced on him by his Republican antagonists in the House, then once more made the argument that unrestrained government is essential to the country’s economic heath. He spoke loftily of the need for growth, as if his policies haven’t been the main impediment to the achieving that goal, and declared that “the American people are fed up with Washington” as if he hasn’t held the most powerful position in that capital city for the past five years.
All the blame, as always, was laid at the feet of those pesky Republicans who dared to defy his imperial edicts. Although he condescended to praise the “reasonable” Republicans who eventually capitulated to his demands, he scolded the “extremes” of the party who “don’t like the word ‘compromise’” and aren’t “willing partners.” Obama is reckoned to have won the shutdown showdown because he was able to compromise less than even his most unwilling adversaries were prepared to do, and by “reasonable” and “willing” partners he clearly means Republicans willing to go along with every detail of his insane agenda, but he does seem to believe that he deserves credit for his generous willingness to work with those anarchistic hostage-taking old-folk-hating terrorists in that other party.
The president’s great victory merely postponed the same old fussing and fighting for a few months, when yet another debt ceiling will be reached and the same old argument that it would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility not to go a few hundred more billion dollars in debt is once again trotted out, but he believes it entitles him to proceed without any bothersome dissent from his vanquished foes. Not only are those Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to stay silent, but also “the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict.” Including the “professional activists who profit from conflict” is an especially audacious choice, coming from a man who touted his years as a community organizer to win election, and it’s not as if Obama has demonstrated any sort of aversion to the right sort of lobbyists during his time office, but the disdain for the folks exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize his actions is also quite worrisome coming from a president.
Obama went on to taunt his opponents to “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it, but don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.” Coming from the man who promised to “fundamentally transform” the country, and was eager to vote against raising the debt ceiling when a Republican was in the White House, and apparently believes that his convoluted socialized medicine scheme is what our predecessors spent over two centuries building, this is rich. Those Republicans who bravely voted against handing yet another few hundred billion dollars of debt to the president did win elections, and they won them on a promise to get rid of Obamacare and at least slow the growth of an ever-expanding government. Such resistance might offend Ocala’s sense of entitlement, but it is very much a part of the system he claims to uphold. Elsewhere in the speech Obama indicated that he will use the next few months of increased debt to pursue immigration reform that will sign up a few more million Democratic voters and a farm bill that continues to churn out corporate and social welfare, and he seemed offended in advance by the predictable resistance.
After some blather about the selfless government employees who endured a lengthy paid vacation during the shutdown, Obama ended with some old-fashioned hope-and-change rhetoric about everyone working together to do whatever his heart might desire. He graciously allowed that there will be some differences of opinion, but with chin aloft he intoned that “It can’t degenerate into hatred.” Not like those anarchistic, hostage-taking, old-folk-hating Republicans, you know.

— Bud Norman

Storming the Barry-cades

The most heartening story of the past weekend, with even the Kansas City Chiefs’ improbable run to a 6-and-0 record notwithstanding, was the continuing wave of civil disobedience protesting the administration’s peevishly punitive policies during the government’s partial shutdown.
Apparently worried that the public might not notice the absence of so much of the governments’ employees, or worse yet start asking dangerous questions about why we need to keep racking up such enormous debts in order to keep them on their officially nonessential jobs, the administration has endeavored to make the shutdown as painful as possible. One of the more obvious tactics has been to close national parks, monuments, and other public lands even when doing so requires more manpower and expense than keeping them open. Supposedly essential government employees who remain at work have reportedly enforced these closures with an officiousness that one elderly national park visitor described as “Gestapo tactics,” and efforts by the House Republicans to fund public access to these sites as well as offers by state and local governments to assume the costs have been rebuffed by the administration. One might not know it from reading or listening to the major media, who are mostly concerned with the alleged intransigence of the stubborn Republicans that President Barack Obama has refused to negotiate with, but the administration has acted to deny the public its right to public lands.
This is an outrage that a free people shouldn’t bear, and it is therefore good to know that many among us have chosen not to. The social media are full of accounts of people defying the attempts to shut them out of their land, often with hilarious pictures of the protestors happily frolicking behind the “do not enter” signs that were erected by the putatively shut-down government, and even such a polite press outlet as The Chicago Tribune has featured a tale of a usually law-abiding writer’s visit to a closed national park. Harder to ignore was Sunday’s mass demonstration at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where several thousand people, including some very seasoned veterans of that conflict, knocked down the barricades to reclaim their rightful place at the monument. Some even dragged the barricades — now known in the feistier sort of media as “barry-cades,” in honor of the president’s nickname before he decided that exotic sold better — to a noisy protest outside the White House gates. Such a tumult would have brought banner headlines had it been a scruffy bunch of leftists shouting down a Republican president, but veterans and truckers and other middle-class Americans protesting a Democrat’s infringements on the public’s rights was worth only a passing mention on the evening news.
More attention was paid to the pro-illegal immigration rally recently held on the National Mall, despite the area being closed to such troublemakers as the veterans who hoped to pay honor to their fallen comrades, but it was little noted that the speakers at the rally made a point of thanking Obama for being allowed on the property. As the estimable Mark Steyn has already noted, the land isn’t Obama’s and “his most groveling and unworthy subjects shouldn’t require a dispensation by His Benign Majesty to set foot on it.” That there are still a few bold Americans willing to act against such monarchical madness is a story worth telling, and celebrating.

— Bud Norman