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Funerals, Fences, Popes and Presidents

The President of the United States cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of the most distinguished Supreme Court Justice of the past half-century, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is currently leading the Republicans’ race to become the next president is having a “twitter” fight with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church over who’s the better Christian, and we are reminded yet again that we live in strange and contentious times.
President Barack Obama reportedly paid his respects to Justice Antonin Scalia while the late jurist lie in state, and that will have to do while Obama plots to seat a replacement who will undo all of Scalia’s good works. He’s insisting that the inevitable knock-down-dragpout barroom brawl to follow will be conducted in the most civil and mutually respectful way possible, and his spokesman has expressed his regret about his past attempt as a Senator to thwart another president’s Supreme Court appointment, which he now realizes is an awful thing for any senator to ever do to a president, and his friends in the media are earnestly hoping that the crazy right-wingers in the Republican party will be reasonable about a loony left-wing appointment despite their deep-seated racism, but it doesn’t seem off to a good start.
We expect the Republican response won’t include any of those racist slurs or subtle insinuations that the Democratic press is always so eagerly awaiting, but neither do we expect that it be at all polite, and certainly not so capitulatory as what the Democrats would consider reasonable. A few Republicans up for re-election in the most uncertain election year in anybody’s living memory might go wobbly, but those with safe red state seats, which aren’t even safe in these days of widespread burn-it-all-down sentiment, will feel the same pressure of public opinion not to budge an inch. They have the long history of resistance to lame duck appointments and the Democrats’ role in it on their side, as well, if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore, so Obama can’t reasonably hope for any more respect than he’s shown.
As the late and great Yogi Berra famously noted, “You should always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to yours,” and once upon a more civil and mutually respectful era of political knock-down-drag-out barroom brawls a president would have least put on a necktie to announce the death of even an ideologically opposed Supreme Court justice.
Once up on that more civil and mutually respectful era, however, you didn’t get “twitter” fights between Republicans and Pontiffs. The whole mess started when Pope Francis paid an extended visit to Mexico that included a brief prayer near the host country’s border with the United States. The Pope is an Argentinian and adherent of the socialistic “social gospel” and pretty much typical of international liberalism on all matters except sex and certain age-old doctrines that only Catholic need concern themselves with, so the prayer was widely interpreted as a political message, so one might conclude he started it all. Still, it would have gone largely ignored by the press north of the border, however, and would have been entirely ignored by the staid old Republican candidates of the good old funeral-going and necktie-wearing days, but these days the party’s front-runner is a billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who couldn’t resist “tweeting” that the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics is “a pawn of the Mexican government.” Such is the diplomatic savvy of the man who promises to make America great again, and these days we shouldn’t be surprised that it prompted such a clumsy response from the socialist Pope that a boastful, foul-mouthed, handicapped-mocking, proudly cuckolding, thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt gambling mogul, who has explained he is a forgiveness-seeking Christian only to the extent that “I eat my little cracker, drink my little wine,” somehow comes off looking better.
Pope Francis, who surely deserves some respect as the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics, and can surely be forgiven for not fully understanding the complexities of the most uncertain American election year of anybody’s memory, was of course asked about Trump’s “tweets,” which he might have understood of are the utmost importance in these strange and contentious times, and through interpreters that we can’t vouch for he wound up saying that there was something un-Christian about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Although we really do have great respect for the Catholic faith, and are rooting hard for the Little Sisters of the Poor to prevail in their court case and not have to pay that damnable Obamacare contraception mandate, something in our Protest and Republican souls must politely disagree. Our objections to unfettered illegal immigration are based the severe economic and cultural and political damage it has done in this country, but is also based on a belief that siphoning off the most industrious and resourceful citizens of the Third World who can thrive in America does no favor to their countries of origin, and that allowing those poorer countries to use the west as a dumping ground for their more unskilled and even criminal element allow them forestall the necessary reforms to make their own countries livable, and that the “social gospel” does provide the blueprint. Calling one’s faith into question over such matters is wrong, even by the degraded standards of American politics, and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of defending Donald J. Trump.
Which is not to say that we believe the Pope is a “pawn of the Mexican government,” any more than we believe that “Bush lied, people died” or all the “birther” claims or any of Trump’s crazed conspiracy theories, or that Donald J. Trump is a more exemplary Christian that the Pope or even the lowliest sinner who will confess that he falls short of the glory of God, but rather to say that we’re living in such strange and contentious times that Trump gets the best of it. He “tweets” his indignation that anyone would question anyone’s Christianity, even though Trump has lately been saying that pesky rival-for-frontrunner-status Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not a Christian because he lies by showing old videos of Trump saying things he says he doesn’t believe anymore, and has mocked onetime-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s claims of finding a spiritual path from his childhood rage, which Trump said was “pathological” and therefore incurable and that Carson was akin to a child molester, and he’ll likely prevail. The socialist Pope isn’t popular, not even with us, no matter how respectful we strive to be, and Trump’s a hot item in the press, despite his negatives in all the polls, at least until he wins the nomination, when all the horror stories start to show up in the media he’s supposedly been so skillfully playing.
These are strange and contentious times, and we doubt any of these guys from the Vatican to the White House to top of Trump Tower to the cheap-rent headquarters of those pesky rivals have any idea how it will play out. The Democratic race offers no hope, and is in fact at least as big a mess even without any papal intervention, so we’ll wait and see. All we know with any certainty is that it won’t be civil, and neckties won’t be required.

— Bud Norman

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The Next 362 Days

Has it really been seven years and three days since President Barack Obama’s first inauguration? The calendar says so, so we have already begun marking off the more or less Constitutionally-guaranteed final 362 days of his presidency on our wall with the grimly optimistic impatience of a prisoner awaiting the end of an unjust sentence, but as bad it’s been it somehow doesn’t seem like seven years and three days.
Our memory of that first inauguration, which entailed such unforgettably nauseating coverage by the adoring press and such a rapturous reception by the public at large that it seemed more of a coronation or canonization or even a messianic anointment, remains so vivid that it seems just yesterday. We still recall sitting in a car dealership waiting for some annoying automotive repair with nothing to read but a Time Magazine with Obama as Frank Delano Roosevelt on the cover, and pulling into an ice-covered parking lot on some chore while listening to a radio report about some school district someplace that voted to make Obama’s first inauguration a National Holiday when the kids didn’t have to go to school, and all the good-looking celebrities pledging their allegiance to the new leader and the choirs of cute children singing the new leader’s praises,and all our liberal friends swooning, and how even some more or less Republican types were writing they liked the cut of this Obama fellow’s jibe and the crease in in his trousers. Ah, it truly does seem only yesterday.
Yet how far we seem have travelled in time, given what we find in the news and hear from our varied friends these days. By now the big issue was supposed to have been the hasty repeal of that nasty Republican-inspired 22nd Amendment so that Obama will be allowed to serve a third term, and how the upcoming Chicago Olympics will allow the world to celebrate his new era of global peace and prosperity and hip-hop coolness, but we can no longer find any of that among even our craziest friends or the most fervid reaches of the internet. Instead we awake to the current date’s news and rub our eyes and look about and we note that Obama seems but a minor player these days, albeit an annoying one, and that along with brief mention of the dour economic and foreign affairs news most of the talk is about the strange stew  of politics that is lately  brewing in the red-hot metaphorical pots of both parties. The past seven years of hope and change have both parties in an anti-establishmentarian mood, with wildly divergent ideas about what to do, even if the moderate moderate wings of both parties somehow survive the revolutionary zeal, and that glorious inauguration-coronation-cannonization-annointment and moment of more or less national faith in the new leader seems so very long ago.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running for a third term of the First Black President as the First Woman President, which somehow makes sense to a significant portion of Democrats, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating some pretty darned serious charges about everything from her un-secured e-mail account to her family foundation’s hefty donations from the dubious countries she was dealing with as Secretary of State, that whole First Woman President thing is being undermined as her perv husband’s countless scandals are suddenly viewed by her own stated standard that victims of sexual assault should always believed, and there’s all that one-percenter kind of money she’s racked up from the Wall Street slickers which she’s now obliged to rail against after the past seven years, and even her promises of an another eight years just like the past seven aren’t playing well with Democrats.
Seven years and three days after that historic inauguration-coronation-canonization-anointment day, almost all of the Democrats we know are by now so fed up they’re itching to itching to go full-blown and self-described socialist along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That long ago dawn of the Obama is not so far ago that they’ll ascribe the new leader any blame, but they all seem to reluctantly concede that their leader did not dare to go quite far enough to have reached that once-promised land. Some Republicans still persist, they glumly note, along with all their noise about illegal and legal immigration and terrorism and a sputtering economy heading for a scary downturn, along with their unaccountable lack of concern about global warming and transgendered rights, and there’s still all that white privilege and social injustice and whatnot out there, and all in all they can’t disguise a certain disappointment with the past seven years of hope and change. Sterner stuff, they seem to believe, is required.
The Republicans and the conservatives and the populists and the anti-establishmentarians and the independents and the moderates and whatever else you want to call the majority of dissatisfied America are by now worse than disappointed. There’s currently a mad scramble for their votes among the Republican presidential candidates, and oy vey, is that a mess. Through-thick-and-through-thin Republicans such as ourselves don’t have to choose between another seven years of Wall Street-financed socialism and a baggage cart full of scandals or an even more outright socialist, but we find ourselves wading into internecine battles over conservatism that we didn’t anticipate just seven years and three days ago.
Gee aint it funny how seven years and three days, out of our mere three score and seventy, slips away.

— Bud Norman

The Relative Rightness of the Right

All our liberal friends are lately fretting about the Republican Party’s frightening extremism, and they’ve all seemed to settle on the same popular press aphorism that even such a crazy right wing cowboy as Ronald Reagan couldn’t win the party’s nomination these days. We always note that since the good old days of Reagan the Republicans have nominated George H.W. Bush twice, then Bob Dole, then George W. Bush twice, followed by John McCain and Mitt Romney, and that the current front-runner has expressed approval of protectionist tariffs and a Canadian-style health care system and the Kelo decision and thinks his partial-birth-abortion-loving sister would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice and not so long ago was praising President Barack Obama and saying that he agreed with the Democrats on most issues, which hardly seems an extreme enough progression to the right to suit to our tastes, but our friends remain unconvinced.
From their Democratic position, which has veered so far to the left during our lifetime that a self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders now seems poised to win the party’s nomination, even yet another Bush would seem distantly far to the right. We try to imagine a youthful and handsome and famously rich and notoriously philandering John F. Kennedy running for the Democratic nomination on an economic platform of tax cuts for the rich and a foreign policy that would pay any price and bear any burden to spread democracy, and our imagination fails us. Lyndon Johnson would fare well these days proposing another round of all the Great Society spending that proved so disastrous, but between his foreign policy and his Texas accent he’d likely be booed off a Democratic debate stage, and Hubert Humphrey was far too happy a warrior for the party’s current mood. George McGovern might still be a plausible candidate, if he didn’t mention all the bombs he dropped during World War II, and Jimmy Carter might stand a chance, if he were shrewd enough to eschew the Baptist Sunday school teacher shtick, but ever since the time when those long-ago but well-remembered Reagan landslides dragged the Democratic party reluctantly back to the center it’s been steadily lurching leftward.
The Democrats finally ended the hated the twelve-year Reagan-Bush era with Bill Clinton, who won with the lucky combination of a disingenuously centrist campaign, a relatively mild and brief but well-timed recession, and an independent run by a billionaire populist, and despite all the sex scandals he remains beloved within the party to this day. He’s even more widely considered a success, despite all the sex scandals,  but mostly because of the welfare reform and balanced budgets and law-and-order initiatives and financial de-regulations and free trade treaties and anti-gay marriage acts he was forced to sign off on by the Republican Congress that his first two years of crazy leftism brought into being, none of which will get you the Democratic nomination these days. He was followed as his party’s nominee by his vice president, Al Gore, now best known as the guy who frantically predicted our Earth would be scorched by now from global warming, then John Kerry, the war hero and hippy dippy peacenik who will forever live in history as the man who delivered $150 billion and a nuclear bomb to the mad mullahs of Iran, and then Obama, whose disingenuously centrist campaign for the “fundamental transformation of America” didn’t mind if the in-the-know Democrats knew that he was about as far-left a candidate they could ever hope to elect.
Until this year, when a self-described socialist such as Sanders seems poised to the win the Democratic nomination. Even Obama has indignantly resisted the “socialist” label, which up until now has been a damning disqualification even in Democratic politics, but after seven years of his whatchamacallit policies a large and potentially decisive number of Democrats have apparently decided they might well as go ahead and call it socialism and go full-hog with it. We appreciate the frankness of it, and can easily understand why all of our liberal friends prefer Sanders’ authentic socialistic kookiness to his opponent’s disingenuously centrist cynicism, but we can’t help worrying that some sort of rhetorical Rubicon has been crossed in the history of our perilous Republic.
We don’t doubt that Sanders’ rise is largely attributable to the fact that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, who is currently being investigated by the feds for her fishy and national security-endangering e-mail practices and was  Secretary of State during the disaster that provides the plot of the latest hit action-adventure movie and has 25 year’s worth of scandals on her resume, and whose once-beloved president of a husband is no longer so well remembered by Democrats for those balanced budgets and welfare reforms that Obama unilaterally revoked and all those black-life-saving law-and-order initiatives that the “Black Lives Matter” movement are protesting, and whose sex scandals are no longer easily overlooked by a feminist movement concerned with a “culture of rape” on American campuses if not dar-al Islam, as well as the increasingly apparent fact she’s thoroughly corrupt and and dishonest and just an awful candidate for any time or either party. Still, we fondly recall a not-so-long-ago time when flinging the “socialist” label against Sanders would have saved her worthless skin.
Of course, Clinton struggles to explain why a plain old Democrat such as herself isn’t a socialist, and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has trouble with the same question about her party at large, and by now our liberal friends are no longer denying there is any difference. If Clinton somehow avoids indictment survives Iowa and New Hampshire and gets to the supposedly friendlier where the minority voters who preferred Obama in ’08 but are now said to prefer in ’16 and she somehow winds up with the nomination, we expect she’ll be quite comfortable with the socialist label by then. Her party clearly has no discomfort with it, and after the past seven years of an elected and re-elected Obama it’s no longer far-fetched to think the country at large doesn’t.
Our conservative friends are relishing the Democratic race with undisguised schadenfreude, just are liberal friends are gleefully watching Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican contest, but we urge both to careful about what they wish for. Conservatives are angry that the Republican party they’ve empowered with Congressional majorities haven’t thwarted Obama’s left-wing agenda enough, liberals are disappointed that even seven years of Obama haven’t prevented those hateful right-wingers from thwarting their socialist utopia, and that uninformed mass in the middle is merely dissatisfied that nothing seems to have worked out and are susceptible to either side’s arguments. That uniformed mass in the middle was educated in public schools where socialism hasn’t been a disqualifying slur for the past many decades, and they don’t know from capitalism or socialism or communism or mercantilism, and if it comes down to who is angrier and more authentically anti-establishment it would be a neck-to-neck race between Sanders and Trump. The next Republican nominee will have to be able to patiently and persuasively explain to an idiocratic public why the economic system that has brought American from backwater colonial status to being the world’s foremost superpower is superior to the system that has reduced Europe to its current groped state and brought utter ruin to most of Asia and Africa and South America, and right now the Republican’s front-runner is planning to explain it by bragging how he got really, really rich by buying off the politicians who’ve been running the all-but-in-name socialist system for the past few decades.
From our perspective, here in the heart of America and still pretty much where we were back in the good old Reagan days, all those recent earthquakes seem to have shifted the political landscape to the left.

— Bud Norman

Our Republican Response to the Republican Response to the Republican Response

What turned out to be an Iliad-and-Odyssey-like quest to purchase a two-dollar replacement nose pad for an aging pair of spectacles put us in the dreaded rush hour traffic of the unlovely and all-too-busy near-west side on Wednesday evening, so to suit our mood we tuned the comfortingly old-fashioned AM radio in our aging automobile onto one of the angrier talk radio talkers. Although we’re usually not inclined to listen to the host’s shrieking diatribes, even if we do mostly agree with what he’s shrieking about, we thought it might pleasantly kill the time at those interminable near-west side traffic stops to hear someone shrieking about that awful State of the Union speech President Barack Obama gave the night before. By the time we finally found our way back to home we had acquired the rare and elusive nose pad, alleviating a slight but annoying pain in the nose, but something in in our old-fashioned Republican soul remained unsettled by the road rage and other rancor we encountered.
Our reliable host eventually got around to a spittle-spewing rant on the president’s infuriating address, with all the capital letters and multiple explanations marks and sneering nicknames and other rhetorical frothing we studiously avoided in our own previously-published grousing on the matter, which we’d like to think conveyed our disgust amply nonetheless, but he spent the first segment of his show grousing with same spittle-spewing and capitalized and exclamation marked disgust about the Republican Party’s traditional response to the speech. Similarly outraged Republican responses to the Republicans’ response were all over the conservative corners of the internet, so it suddenly seems that every wing of our Republican party is as angry about the others as they are about anyone else. To hear that radio host go on about you’d think he’s even angrier about his own party than he is Obama, and that’s saying a lot. We’ve oft shared our own reservation’s about our party’s too-frequent timidity, albeit with what we like to think is our more light and literary touch, but in this case the outrage seems inordinate.
In this case the Republican response was offered by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whom we hardly consider an enemy of the conservative cause. She’s a woman, but with an “a” rather than a “y,” and she’s of Indian-from-India descent, but is proudly Christian and has proudly never hyphenated her Americanism, and the reliably conservative people and thus reputedly sexist and xenophobic people of South Carolina seem to like her, so we’ve formed a generally favorable impression of her of admirable career of confounding the Democrats’ convoluted theory of identity politics. She’s struck some less-than-perfect political bargains in a state that was until recently dominated by a Democratic Party that still has a significant and loyal black population to make it a significant player, but even the most famously tough negotiators on the Republican slate will eventually come up against that sort of thing, and she agreed to remove to confederate battle flag from the public square if not from the roof of the “Dukes oF Hazzard” muscle car, but as Bleeding Kansas Republicans so old-fashioned that our Republicanism goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln we can’t object to such unbiased Unionism and abolitionism. In any case, as we assess her generally low-tax and low-spending ways, we worry that if the likes of South Carolina’s Gov. Haley are banished from conservatism we’ll be left inside a very small tent.
And what were her offending remarks? So far as we can tell, she he went so far as to say that “Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.” To compound the offense, she went to say that “In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a false tendency to equate noise with results.” To those who are blissfully unaware of recent internecine Republican politics these might seem blandly true blandishments, or perhaps even a well-deserved jab against the Obama administration’s fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric and the perilous situation it has wrought, along with his blithe dismissals of the very viable threats facing America, along with the academic and media culture that has echoed his efforts, but to those in the know it was readily understood as an attack on Republican front-runner real estate mogul Donald Trump and perhaps even his most troublesome conservative rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Both of the two most potential Republican nominees have been conspicuously angry lately, along with most of the Republican Party and a big chunk of the Democrats, and after that stupid Toyota took long enough to crawl to a left turn we’re angry enough ourselves to understand her remarks accordingly. Her words are frustrating, we must admit, given how very rational and quite forgivable our anger seems.
Still, we retain a respect for Gov. Haley and her advice about not letting anger get the best of us. It is redolent of our beloved Lincoln and his his memorable exhortation during our nation’s darkest hour of “malice towards none, and charity toward all,” and that Burkean claim to the best of our civilization’s traditions, and both the Enlightenment’s and the Christians’ appeal to “come, let us reason together,” and all that Greek stuff about rationalism, so as annoyed as one can become in a near-west side traffic jam with the understandably peeved talk radio talkers talking their compelling complaints we have tried to keep calm within our old-fashioned Republican soul. Given our own mixed record of scraps with equally angered folks, so we’re temperamentally inclined toward to any peaceful resolution that preserves both our liberty and our generously accommodating sense of justice, and we scan the dial enough to note that those even crazier Democrats have their thoroughly corrupt establishment candidate vs. insurrectionist and outright socialist anger thing gong on. At this point we’re clinging to the desultory hope that a perfectly calibrated candidacy of public anger will prevail, and that the most non-socialist and least-authoritarian candidate will wind up as president, and that both reason and tradition and the Enlightment and Christianity all the rest of that Burkean and Greek stuff will somehow sort all this stuff and that all those angry radio talkers will have some good news to proclaim and that the near-west side traffic lights will eventually turn green.

— Bud Norman

OKC is Doing OK

A holiday gathering of our extended family drew us down to the greater Oklahoma City area on Tuesday, and we are pleased to report the town is booming. Perhaps it’s just the Christmas season that’s put us in such a generous mood, but we’ll acknowledge that taxes and government have apparently had something to do with it.
Oklahoma City is a politically and culturally and religiously conservative town even by prairie standards, which largely explains its recent prosperity, and of course the most recent oil boom also has a lot to do with it, but even our most rock-ribbed Republican kinfolk will concede that a series city government-run and taxpayer-financed Metropolitan Area Projects have also played a part. The “MAPs,” as everyone calls them, renovated the Civic Center Music Hall, a convention center and the state fairgrounds, built a new main library and a canal that helped turn an abandoned warehouse district into the thriving drinking-and-dining area called Brick Town. Such improvements have prompted private investment, which has been helpfully coordinated with the very pro-business City Hall. The National Basketball Association’s Thunder is now the city’s first major league professional sports team, if you don’t count the University of Oklahoma Sooners football squad, and the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball team is playing in a gorgeous new stadium. There’s a privately donated collection of impressionist art that was privately donated, big time shows are now routinely scheduled at various venues in the revived downtown area, and just about any chain restaurant you might want to eat has at least one location.
Such quality-of-life improvements has made it easier fur the city to lure all sorts of big and small business, which has helped diversify a local economy that was previously prone to the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil business, and no one seems to mind the slightly socialistic aspects of the MAPs. Conservative concerns have been allayed by a strict adherence to a pay-as-you-go policy, with the entire city chipping in through slight increases in sales taxes, and it was done at the local level and with the blessings of the voting public. The first $350 MAP payed for all those much-needed renovations, and the second paid for $700 million is in more desperately needed renovations to the local public schools, and the third will spend $777 million on trails, parks and sidewalks, which for some reason have long been rare in this city. That third one passed with only 54 percent of the vote, and there seems to be a sense that the next one will be a tough sale, but for now most Oklahoma Citians seem pleased with the results if not all of the methods. The city is adding jobs and new residents at a fast clip, and the old-timers like their city even better.
We would like it better, too, and we’ve had a soft spot for the city for all the years we’ve been coming here for the extended family gatherings. Mainly we like the extended family, who are mostly a politically and culturally and religiously conservative bunch, but we do like the city they’ve made.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the News

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

— Bud Norman

The Chinese Model and Its Flaws

Not so long ago, before the shakiness of the Chinese economy started shaking the rest of the world’s stock markets, some reputedly smart people were insisting that China was a model to be emulated. The New York Times’ star columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman, for instance, once wrote “Forgive me, Heavenly Father, for I have cast an envious eye on the authoritarian Chinese political system, where leaders can, and do, just order that problems be solved.”

div style=”text-indent:20px;”>It was a damned fool thing to say even at the time, even by the standards of The New York Times’ editorial page, and has since been revealed as such by the full percentage points or more that the Chinese catastrophe seems to be yanking away from the the the DJIA and S&P and the STOXX and Footsie and the NIKKEI and the rest of the acronyms and nicknames of all those panic markets in every nook and cranny of the world. Still, it’s easy to understand the appeal that a system where the reputedly smart people “can, and do, just order than problems be solved” would have to those who think they possess such wisdom and information and elite status that they could and would do exactly that if only the great unwashed masses of the body politic would allow them the power. China was reporting extraordinary growth in its gross national product, which according to some accountings had already overtaken America’s as the world’s largest, and the country was blissfully unbothered by anything resembling the fiscally sober and free-market-loving elements of America’s Republican Party, so a cause-and-effect relationship of course seemed obvious to a certain sort of so-called liberal, and the example of authoritarian rule that momentarily seemed to be working was simply too much for the more authoritarian-inclined yet so-called liberals to resist.

Now that it has become so quantifiably apparent on the stock market boards that the people running the Chinese economy can’t and haven’t solved all its very serious problems, the argument for letting a few reputedly smart people run a country is harder to sustain. The Chinese invested borrowed billions in a variety of bridges and infrastructure projects and entire new gigantic cities, just as the reputedly smart people on the American left would do, but the bridges mostly led to nowhere and the infrastructure projects were largely pointless and the cities remain uninhabited, and there’s nothing resembling the fiscally sober and free market-loving portion of the Republican Party around to be blamed for the obvious mess.
The worst possible outcome for America’s economy might yet be blamed on that same portion of the Republican Party, and some self-described or barely-disguised socialist might persuasively make the argument for letting a few reputedly smart people run the whole economy and the rest of your life, but at least the fiscally sober and free market-loving portion of the Republican Party will be able to make a plausible argument. We’re as alarmed as anyone else about this stock market dive, and well understand where it might lead, but we’re clinging to a faint hope that at least it won’t lead to a Chinese-style authoritarianism.

— Bud Norman

Badgering in the Badger State

President Barack Obama was warmly welcomed to Wisconsin by Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday, then let loose with another one of his characteristic petty partisan screeds, this one ridiculing his host. The characteristically petty partisan crowd roared its approval, of course, and the characteristically petty partisan press described it as part of a “victory lap” after a week of favorable legislation and Supreme Court rulings, of course, but not a word of it bears more skeptical scrutiny.
Speaking to an adoring throng in LaCrosse, Obama likened the entire Republican to a senile “Uncle Harry” making nonsensical statements at a family Thanksgiving dinner, adding that “You still love him. He’s still a member of your family. Right? But you’ve got to correct him. You don’t want to put him charge of stuff.” He also compared Wisconsin’s government under Walker to that of neighboring and more-Democratic Minnesota, noting that Minnesota had raised taxes on the wealthy, increased the minimum wage, expanded Medicaid, implemented all-day kindergarten, offered subsidies for college, and had a lower unemployment rate and higher median income. With the applause indicating that he had an audience willing to believe that higher taxes and higher labor costs and increased government spending is the obvious explanation for Minnesota’s relatively healthier economy, Obama then boasted of his own successes with this same formula, and contrasted his humane approach with the Republicans’ policy of giving tax breaks to the wealthy and letting everyone else fend for themselves. Such callous economics was the cause of the ’08 financial crisis, Obama told the crowd, anding that “Being an American is not about taking as much as you can from your neighbor before they take as much as they can from you. We are not a bunch of individuals out here on our own. We are a community, we are family. We are in this together.”
One hardly knows where to begin rebutting such hogwash, but it might as well be at the beginning with that crack about the crazy uncle. This comes from the World’s Greatest Orator, who was going to end the era of partisan division and facilitate a serious discussion about the nature’s future. It also comes from the leader of a party that features a crazy and foul-mouthed Uncle Joe and a creepy face-lifted Aunt Nancy and a perverted Cousin Anthony who keeps sending pictures of his underwear-clas private parts over his cell phone and a First Mom who insists that everyone eat their vegetables while she wolfs down what the fancy chefs who’ve been flown have created and a cackling evil stepmother Hillary who seems next in line to lead our very dysfunctional national family, and we can’t share the audience’s satisfaction that everything has worked out so well since they’ve been “put in charge of stuff.”
Walker does a fine enough job defending his controversial policies in an op-ed article at Real Clear Politics, graciously headlined “Welcome to Wisconsin, Mr. President,” noting the significant economic gains that have lately occurred in his state in spite of the sluggish national economy. He didn’t anticipate the part about Minnesota, so for his benefit we’ll add that the high tax rates on job-creators cannot possibly explain the state’s job creations, the minimum wage increase is less than a year old and hasn’t yet pushed up overall wages and has almost certainly eliminated many minimum-wage jobs, the Medicaid expansion wouldn’t have been necessary if the Minnesota economy were as robust as he represents it, and probably was made more necessary by the many Minnesotans who lost the suddenly more-expensive health plans they liked and were promised they could keep but were relegated to Medicaid by Obamacare, there’s no proof that all-day kindergarten does children much good, somebody’s still paying those ever-increasing college costs that always go up further with the subsidies, and a more telling basis for comparison would be the relative improvement of the Wisconsin and Minnesota economies over the past few years.
Nor does the broader American economy seem to justify such arrogance. The labor participation rate is at a low unseen since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, wages remain stagnant, the Gross Domestic Product contracted the first quarter of this year and the most optimistic predictions having it growing at around 2 percent or a fraction over the full year, such meager advances have added more than $8 trillion to the national debt during the Obama presidency, and no one who isn’t within clapping distance of the presidents anticipates that happy days will soon be here again. We’re not heartened by the rest of the president’s great week, either. The Supreme Court ruled that the Obamacare law doesn’t say what it says on the written 2,000-plus, but that instead it means whatever five justice of the Supreme Court would prefer it said, and then on the big same-sex marriage decision it pretty much concluded the same thing about the Constitution, and whatever political benefits might redound to the president neither development is likely to do much good for the rule of law and Constitutional restraints on the federal government. A lot of Republicans and a few cowed Democrats also gave the president “fast track” authority to negotiate a top-secret free-trade deal with numerous Asian nations, and although we’re generally free traders we don’t like the top-secret and remain worried that it will allow him to pull some immigration and environmental shenanigans.
Most annoying, though, were his descriptions of capitalism and socialism. The natural rights of individuals to voluntarily trade and contract with another in a free market, an arrangement that has produced greater wealth and one more to advance civilization than any cockamamie bureaucratic regulatory scheme, is explained in terms of “taking as much as you can from your neighbor before they take as much as they can from you.” Any individual who has become self-sufficient by voluntarily trading and contract with another individual in a free market should be grievously offended by this, and we daresay their neighbors should be as well. But then again, we’re “not a bunch of individuals” in Obama’s America, we are a “family.” Obama is presumably the father, although regrettably not the absent sort of father figure he grew up without, and as that cheering throng of hipsters in LaCrosse would probably tell you, with all their progressive sophistication, father knows best.
On second thought, the very most annoying part of Obama’s speech was that line about how the unregulated avarice of that ruthless capitalist system that leaves everyone to fend for themselves was the cause of the ’08 financial crisis. The lie is so oft-repeated that it goes almost unnoticed and almost entirely unquestioned, but the pesky fact remains that it wasn’t caused by lack of regulations that prevented greedy bankers from making home loans to people who clearly could never repay them, but rather because of presumably well-intentioned government interventions in the free market, which encouraged and cajoled and eventually coerced the bankers to make those loans in the cause of affordable housing and civil rights and fairness and all sorts of focus-group tested themes. Obama surely knows this, as he did pro bono work for some subprime borrowers that forced Citibank to write them mortgage, and was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus was it was screaming racism at the regulatory “watchdogs” who were warning of the coming collapse and successfully resisting George W. Bush’s efforts to stop it, and he surely knows that as a result of his efforts housing became less affordable and black Americans wound up disproportionately poorer, as they remain today, and that in the end it was disastrously unfair to all the more credit-worthy homeowners and their creditors as well as just about everyone else.
Obama’s at least a deft enough orator to leave that part out.. We’re looking forward to Walker’s announcement that he’ll be running for president, and expect much better from him, and although he seems a nice and Wisconsin sort of fellow who won’t resort to petty partisanship and sneering ridicule we hope he will bluntly talk back to such hogwash.

— 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

O Canada

We’re old enough to have been around when Pierre Trudeau was transforming Canada into the one of the world’s wussiest nations, and well remember how very envious was the American left. Trudeau was unabashedly socialist, considered an intellectual, and had a tabloid-worthy sex life, so he embodied everything Americans liberals would be looking for in a national leader over the subsequent decades. Even after Trudeau’s disastrous reign came to an end Canada retained a reputation for enlightened liberalism, with its health care system and gun-shyness and apologetic foreign policy and exquisitely sensitive multi-culturalism constantly cited by the likes of Michael Moore to shame the relatively conservative rubes south of its border.
We’re also old enough, alas, to have arrived at a point in our lives when we’re pining for the sort of national leadership that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now providing Canada. The sobering thought occurred to us again when Harper released a statement of unequivocal support for Israel’s right to respond however it wishes to the murderous rocket attacks on its people by the despicable terror gang Hamas, with none of the absurd moral relativism or bossy insistence on a suicidal two-state solution with a Hamas-affiliated government that our own abashedly socialist and considered-an-intellectual national leader was propounding in an op-ed piece in an Israeli magazine just before the latest attacks by that very same despicable terror gang starting lobbing rockets at civilian targets across Israel. Admitting the wisdom of the Canadian way is still uncomfortable for us, but it’s becoming all too familiar.
Harper is also quite right about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would benefit both Canada and America and keep inexpensive oil out of the hands of Chinese industries that will use it in more environmentally unfriendly ways, but our political leadership is too beholden to environmental fantasists to allow it. Canada’s economy was largely unscathed by the financial meltdown that occurred in America and elsewhere because it had wisely declined to require its banks to loan gazillions of dollars to un-creditworthy home buyers, has further enriched itself under Harper’s leadership by encouraging rather than discouraging the exploitation of its vast natural resources through new technologies, and is now several spots ahead of the United States on the Heritage Foundation’s reliable rankings of each country’s economic freedom. Harper has even begun an anti-carbon tax coalition with the conservative government of Australia, which came to power after the liberals’ insane cap-and-trade scheme proved calamitous for that island continent’s economy, and it’s almost enough to make us think that punting on third down isn’t such a bad idea.
One of those famously smart French intellectuals is warning Britons that the European Union is demographically dying and they’d be better off casting their lot with the Anglosphere, which strikes us as good advice, but for the first time in our long lives we don’t expect for the Americans to take their usual lead in that coalition. Perhaps in another two-and-a-half years the United States can assume its rightful position among that handful of nations that the only ones to be on the right side of every battle against tyranny during the 20th Century, but until then we can only envy the leadership to the north. There’s some consolation is knowing that the once-envious liberals are just as discombobulated by it all, but it is faint.

— Bud Norman