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Why Not Call it Treason, and Other Negotiating Ploys

The cable news networks and the big newspapers’ internet sites will soon start running their countdown-to-a-government-shutdown clocks again, with the latest deadline looming tomorrow, and all the savvy negotiators in Congress are reportedly trying to work out some sort of cockamamie deal to keep the government running for at least another couple of weeks. At a meeting ostensibly about immigration reform, President Donald Trump did his part by telling the gathered television cameras and microphones that “I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of. If the Democrats don’t want safety, let’s shut it down.”
This might be one of those masterful three-dimensional chess moves that Trump’s fans always figure he’s making, but our guess is it’s just another one of those ill-advised things he all too frequently blurts out.
Trump is apparently hoping that the Democrats will be so frightened by the prospect of being blamed for a government shutdown that they’ll agree to whatever draconian measures he thinks necessary to get that immigration stuff taken care of, and after their quick capitulations during last month’s government shutdown he has reason for such hope. There was so much Republican gloating and Democratic gnashing of teeth about it that the Democrats are likely to be in a less accommodating mood this time around, though, and they’re probably less worried about being blamed for a government shutdown the Republican president has told the nation he’d love to see.
Trump is also apparently calculating that his draconian immigration measures are are so popular that the public will blame the Democrats for allowing a partial but painful government rather than enact them, and given how unpopularity permissive some of the Democrats’ demands are he has good reason to think so. That stupid idea of a big, beautiful wall across the entire southern polls poorly, though, and those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and have since proved upright semi-citizens poll so well that Trump is dangling an amnesty offer even more generous than anything President Barack Obama ever dared.
The die-hard Trump defenders are furious about the generous amnesty offer he’s dangling for the so-called “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants through no fault of their own, with some now calling him “Amnesty Don,” and Trump tried to placate them with stalk in his now-forgotten State of the Union address about how native-born Americans are “dreamers” too, and his Chief of Staff blurted out an ill-advised about remark about how they amnesty was being offered even to those “dreamers” who were “too lazy to get off their asses” and apply for it. All of which is so infuriating to those die-hard Democrats that it makes them all the less likely to concede even to the many reasonable and popular immigration reform proposals Trump is holding out for, and it’s hard to see how it will all be worked out by tomorrow night.
We can’t resist a nostalgic hope that Democrats and Republicans alike are working into the night to find something between a too-soft and too-hard immigration policy that at least keeps the government up and running for another couple of weeks, but that’s hard to sustain when the president is accusing the opposition of treason for failing to applaud at his long-forgotten State of the Union address. He was just kidding, of course, saying “Hey why not call it (treason)” in much the same way some street corner bully might just be kidding about your sister being a whore, but it doesn’t bode well for that spirt of bipartisan cooperation that Trump called for in that long-forgotten State of the Union address.
Maybe it’s just another one of Trump’s moves in that masterful three-dimensional chess game that never seems to reveal itself, and he did have “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him, but unless this mess somehow makes America great again the more likely explanation is that it’s all just those ill-advised things that he all too frequently blurts out.

— Bud Norman

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A Not Bad, Not Great State of the Union

All in all, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was not bad. Not nearly the oratorical masterpiece that Sean Hannity and the hosts of “Fox and Friends” will surely make it out to be, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
There were no taunting nicknames or needless provocations. It was refreshingly free of “believe me” or “that I can tell you” or any of his other endlessly repeated catchphrases. He didn’t cuss. There was plenty of boasting, of course, but he also lavished praise on a few other people as well. Several of the boasts were wildly overstated or entirely inaccurate, of course, but by comparison to a typical impromptu Trump oration he was relatively restrained and truthful. Except for that annoying sniffle and strange tendency to emphasis seemingly random words, along with an amusingly botched attempt to cover up getting one of his heroes’ nickname wrong, he read the teleprompter well enough.
That’s a rather low standard to set for presidential rhetoric, but here we are. In the interests of fairness we have to note that the Democrats’ response by Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy was at least as lackluster, and that nobody on the current political scene is going to make anyone forget the greatest speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
As for the policy part of the speech, there were some good ideas about reforming the legal immigration system and the same old bad idea of a southern border wall to stop illegal immigration. Something about spending $1.5 trillion on infrastructure, too, but that didn’t explain where the money would come from and was otherwise too vague to tell if it was a good or idea or a bad one. In any case, none of the arguments were so well or so badly or so memorably made that they’re likely to influence the upcoming contentious debates about all these issues. Some future “tweet” or impromptu remark will have more effect on how it all turns out.

— 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

The State of the Dis-Union

President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address Thursday night, and barring the remote possibility that those quadrennial conspiracy theories about a presidential coup at long last prove true it will be his last. The speech marks a point in history when just a few weeks more than a year a left until the end of the Obama error, there is still some faint hope left that at least the next four years after that will be at least somewhat better, and we are glad of such small favors. Everything else about the speech, alas, did little to hearten to us about the true state of the Union.
The speech began with a promise to be brief, which of course was not kept, and went downhill from there. Without any major policy initiatives or other big ideas to announce, and with no hope of getting anything that he might have thought of past the Republican-dominated Congress he has brought into being, Obama mostly used the occasion of his last prime-time network special to make the case that he truly is the Messiah that his post-religious mania of a campaign in ’08 promised. He cited the seemingly healthy unemployment rate of 5 percent but neglected to mention that the number of working age Americans actually working is at a 38-year-low and getting lower, or that the thousand points the Dow Jones averages have already shed in this still-new year has everybody spooked that it’s going to get worse yet, and we doubt he convinced any of his scant viewership here in flyover country that happy days are here again.
There was talk of how deficits have been cut in half since the record-setting first years of his administration under a compliant Democrat-controlled Congress, but not talk of the $8 trillion in debt that has been racked up in his seven years. He mentioned the supposed millions of Americans who now have health insurance under Obamacare, but he didn’t mention how many of them are getting better health care under the Medicaid program they’ve wound up with, or how much more the rest of the country is paying for their premiums, or that randy younger hipsters are forbidden to purchase the catastrophic plans that would have been their best bet in a free market system and that celibate nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage to subsidize those young hipsters’ appalling sex lives, and that it all seems destined for the long-predicted death spiral of fiscal insolvency, and that at this point relatively few Americans are any longer sold on Obamacare.

There were the Reagan-esque uses of specially invited heroes, with this the honorific chair being filled by one of those pitiable Syrian refugees, presumably a more a savory character than the Syrian refugees who have been implicated in a number of gang rapes in western cities in past weeks, and an empty chair for the victims of National Rifle Association-inspired gun violence, but none for those killed in Benghazi or the Chicago’s gang districts, and we doubt anyone will be persuaded by that.

There’s that breakthrough deal with Iran to allow it regional hegemony and apocalyptic nuclear status anytime it wishes, along with a $150 billion signing bonus, but that went unmentioned because of Obama’s usual bad timing. His embarrassing dismissal of the Islamic State as the “jayvee team” of terrorism just before it gained control of an Indiana-sized territory, and his premature declaration that the terror group was “contained” just before it launched deadly attacks against Russian airliners and Parisian rock ‘n’ roll fans and the social services workers of San Bernardino, apparently kept him from touting his touting his peace breakthrough with Iran just hours after that country took 10 American sailors hostage. He did blather on about those crazy Republicans who seem to think that Islam might have something to do with the 1,400-year-old clash between Islam and the once Judeo-Christian West, but we sense that even Obama realizes that nobody out there in flyover country is still buying that. There was also something about Vice President Joe Biden curing cancer with another moonshot, but we’ll skeptically await the results.
The most striking part of the speech by far was Obama’s uncharacteristically humble concern about the political rhetoric that has resulted from his seven years in office and the year of campaigning that preceded it. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency,” he shockingly said, “that the rancor and suspicions between the parties has gotten worse than better. There’s no doubt that a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying better so long as I hold this office.” There’s some uncertainty as to whether he was referring to the Republican or Democratic Roosevelt, but in either case it’s a touching use of the old humble bit. It certainly represents an improvement over telling his loyal opposition that they can still be involved in government so long as they “sit in the back of bus,” or advising his Latino supporters to “punish their enemies,” or charging that his opponents want dirty air and water and what’s worst for everybody, or any of the similar rhetoric that has characterized the last eight years of Obama’s national prominence, but we’ll have to await the results of that promise as well. We don’t doubt that our president regrets that his “get in their faces” and “bring a gun to a knife fight” style of rhetoric that has suddenly allowed a bumptious billionaire and sudden Republican to employ equally harsh and ad hominem rhetoric against the status quo that Obama insists is so comfortable. Obama might have been grousing at least in part about the more honest self-described Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is currently gaining ground in the Democratic Party’s presidential race by admitting those dire work force participation rates and other glum economic realities and proposing even kookier solutions, but in any case he at least forced to concede that is legendary oratorical gifts have not proved adequate to the moment.
There’s another year and a few weeks left of America’s enemies seizing on the mont to advance the evil plans, and so far it doesn’t look like a roaring year for the economy, and even Obama is meekly conceding that the public discussion he has dominated over the past eight years about what to do about it it is likely to yield any solutions, and we are left with a less sanguine assessment of the state of the Union than our president can offer.

— Bud Norman

The Quarterback Scores

At the risk of sounding un-American, we will confess we’ve paid virtually no attention to football this past season. That’s partly because all the domestic abuse scandals and head injury lawsuits and offensive team name controversies and all the resulting litigation and moralizing grew so tedious, and partly because the Wichita Heights High School Falcons and the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas City Chiefs were all knocked out of championship contention way back when the early autumn weather was still warm. So complete is our indifference at this point that we’ve barely even noticed the pre-Super Bowl brouhaha about deflated balls, but we were heartened to hear the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady tell a massive throng of reporters that “This isn’t ISIS.”
The excessively handsome quarterback was widely criticized for the comment, but we’ve yet to hear any of his critics explain why a wee bit of air pressure that might or might not have been removed from the game balls in last weekend’s conference championship is as newsworthy as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Some explanation is called for, given that ISIS continues its head-chopping, crucifying, genocidal romp across an Indiana-sized swathe of the Middle East, and that a slightly softer football could hardly account for the game’s lopsided result in any case. We’re also grateful to Brady for getting ISIS back in the news, as it’s lately been edged out by such fare as sports scores and the surfeit of white folks honored with Academy Award nominations.
So little attention has been paid to ISIS lately that President Barack Obama was able to boast in his State of the Union address that an American-led coalition has stopped the terror gang’s advances without drawing a derisive laugh from his audience. That claim is not corroborated by any press reports we’ve been able to hunt down, and will surely come as a surprise to the unfortunate residents of Mosul and Fallujah and numerous other cities that once enjoyed the protection of American troops but are now beleaguered by ISIS’ murderous gangs, and is acknowledged as a falsehood by Pentagon officials, but that’s easily overlooked when there’s a charge afoot that a professional football team might have deflated a ball. The president further claimed that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been halted, that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program in gratitude for the president’s protection from economic sanctions, and that he somehow deserves credit for America’s recent oil boom, but until some photogenic sports star draws attention to such balderdash it will also go largely unnoticed.
At least the president didn’t repeat last year’s boasts about his successes in Yemen, where another terror gang has lately taken high government officials hostage and American warships are readying to evacuate America’s diplomatic personnel, but he probably could have gotten away with that as well. There’s a Super Bowl coming up, and a too-white Academy Awards ceremony after that, some celebrity or another is bound to be getting a divorce a sex-change operation, sooner or later someone will get around to grousing about such a jingoistic team name as “Patriots,” and America has its priorities.

— Bud Norman

Another State of the Union

State of the Union messages are supposed to be solemn affairs, full of pomp and circumstance and high-blown rhetoric about the future of the nation, but Tuesday’s affair was basically political gamesmanship.
President Barack Obama opened with a rather pointed plea for civility from the Republicans that he has previously accused of wanting dirty water and dirty air and told to sit in the back seat of the governmental automobile, and when he implied that he was above any partisan pettiness because he wouldn’t be running for office again they couldn’t resist some boisterous applause. This led to his apparently improvised boast that he’d already won two elections, which earned some boisterous applause from the Democrats, and the rest of the speech was intended to cause the Republicans further embarrassment in future races.
After some gloating about the booming economy, which continues to have the lowest labor participation labor force participation rates in decades and stagnant wages and job gains that have gone mostly to the illegal immigrants that Obama wants to keep in the country, and is booming only in the places where the oil industry is pumping out cheap energy despite his best efforts to stop them and because of the resiliency of the capitalism system that he wants to replace with European-style socialism, the rest of the speech was the usual agenda of soaking the rich and handing out free stuff to everyone else. None of it has any chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, but the plan is that whatever identity group candidates Democrats come up with in the presidential election will be able to once again portray the Republicans as rich-people-loving meanies who won’t let the kindly Democrats give you free stuff.
The ancient ploy has worked well enough for Obama to be gloating over his two presidential elections, but not well enough to keep him from making it to a Republican-controlled Congress, and it remains to be seen how well it works this time. The free stuff includes government-paid tuition to your local community college, but given how few people currently bother to complete a community college education and how little it is likely to do ensure future success that’s probably less enticing than the free stuff Oprah Winfrey used to put under her audience’s seats. He wants a tax credit for middle class families that would amount to about $500, but given that the sum wouldn’t cover the restaurant tab during one of Obama’s frequent Hawaii vacations he’ll be hard-pressed to parlay that into a reputation as a common man. There are promises to make housing more affordable, reminiscent of the “affordable housing” policies of the Clinton era that created the housing bubble, and higher-speed internet, which of course will be thoroughly regulated by the government, along with a laundry list of other goodies that most press reports didn’t bother to mention. None are likely to be remembered by the time the ’16 election rolls around, while the massive debt that has already piled up from the putatively free stuff that’s been doled out the Obama will still be an issue.
Still, people do hate rich folks and love free stuff, and at this point there doesn’t seem to much else for the Democrats to run on. At last year’s State of the Union the president opened with a boast that all the troops had been pulled out of Iraq, and this year’s speech made no mention of the 2,000 troops who have since returned to deal with the consequences of America’s premature withdrawal from that country. If the economy continues to improve and the deficits continue to decline the Republicans will have a strong case that their obstructionism deserves more credit than the president’s spending and regulating and bloating, and if the Democrats try to take credit for lower gas prices they’ll annoy their environmentalist donors. Free stuff and slandering the mean old Republicans will be the Democrats’ platform, and we can’t blame Obama for trotting it out now.

— Bud Norman

Deflated Balls

The big story on Monday was about deflated balls. We assumed it had something to do with with Secretary of State John Kerry and his folk-rocking hippie pal James Taylor apologizing to the French for snubbing their big march against Islamist terrorism, or perhaps the Republican Senators’ apparent capitulation to the president on the the illegal immigration issue, but it turned out to be just another of those annual allegations of cheating leveled against the New England Patriots professional football team.
Even so, the deflated balls theme seemed to recur throughout the news. There was much speculation about today’s State of The Union address, which will reportedly call for massive tax hikes and vast redistributive spending that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will never pass, and the press was giddy with anticipation that at least they will once again be able to caricature the Grand Old Party as lapdogs of the top-hatted, mustache-twirling rich who are always tying the downtrodden middle class to the metaphorical railroad tracks. The Republicans have always endured this reputation, and it lately hasn’t stopped them from acquiring majorities in both chambers of Congress, but the renewed slander might yet force them into some sorry compromise on the ridiculous proposals.
Another popular topic was the opening of the annual confab in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s most well-heeled wheelers and dealers gather to drink, dine, and discuss the world’s problems. The United Kingdom’s left-wing Guardian took the occasion to anxiously note that the world’s richest one percent now control half the world’s wealth, but they should find some solace in noting that the plutocrats hobnobbing in Davos seem every bit as socialistic and authoritarian as the most welfare-dependent Guardian reader. USA Today preferred the angle that Davos will confront a “World on verge of nervous breakdown,” citing everything from such real problems as increasing Islamist terrorism to such non-problems as anthropogenic global warming to such happy phenomena as falling oil prices, and seems to hold out hope that the super-rich socialists at the gathering mike come up with a solution for it all. We’ve not been invited to Davos, and couldn’t muster the airfare or lodging expenses even if we were, but we’ll keep a skeptical eye on the proceedings nonetheless.
The rest of the news seemed to be about “American Sniper,” a big Hollywood flick that has been setting box office records that the previous slew of anti-war flicks never approached and is sending the mainstream media’s last surviving movie clinics into rage. Apparently the movie regards Islamist terrorists as bad guys and the American soldiers who have been fighting them as good guys, albeit with the some of the requisite Hollywood moral ambivalence, so the outrage isn’t at all surprising. The protagonist is apparently a white guy, which is also controversial these days, so the criticism will likely mount leading up to the Academy Awards voting. We haven’t seen the picture yet, and probably won’t until it shows up on Netflix, what with movie and popcorn prices being akin to a trip to Davos these days, so we’re withholding out own our judgment on the film’s artistic merits, but we’ll keep an eye on these developments as well.
Perhaps the desultory nature of the news can be attributed to “Blue Monday,” that post-holiday point in the dead of the winter that is said to be the most depressing day of the year. Around here the weather was unusually tolerable, although not nearly to our warm-blooded liking, but it still seemed rather a glum slog through the news.

— Bud Norman

Another Year “Tweets” By

We rarely “tweet,” partly because it sounds so newfangled and sissified, partly because we can’t compress even a quick cussing into so few characters, but there’s no denying that Twitter is now the national soap box. Whatever people are “tweeting” about is what people are talking about, no matter what topics the big-time editors and producers might prefer, and we try to pay some heed to the vox populi.
With the year winding desultorily down and all the pundits writing about their looks back with regret, we were especially intrigued by a chart showing what topics “trended” on Twitter over the past months. The chart suggests that the public’s news judgment is no more astute than those of the big-time editors and producers, and that passing fancies can be become national obsessions before they pass, and that our own priorities are as usual markedly different from the average American’s.
One of the first noticeable spikes on the chart came after President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union, which we had forgotten completely. We’re sure we wrote something or another about it, probably something snarky, but otherwise have no recollection of the event taking place. If anyone can recall a single line of the speech, they’re unlikely to be “tweeting” it now. There’s a conspicuously smaller spike following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but we suppose that doesn’t fit into “tweet” size as neatly as a State of the Union speech. A far bigger spike followed the release of a wiretapped audio recording of a professional basketball team owner’s racist rant to his young mixed-race mistress, and given that he was an already disliked old man and the mistress was young and kind of hot there’s an understandable interest in such eavesdropping, but we had also forgotten about that matter. Another biggie was the Supreme’s Court Hobby Lobby decision more or less upholding religious freedom over Obamacare, a matter we followed closely, but we recall that many of the “tweets” were lamenting that some mean old church-goers weren’t being forced to pay for abortifacients.
Then “MH 17” pops up, and we had to go to a search engine to find out that meant the Malaysian airliner which went mysteriously missing back when the weather was better, which was an intriguing puzzler but never came to any satisfactory conclusion and was suddenly cancelled like one of those endlessly plot-twisting network series. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, produced the highest total of “tweets” all year, most of them decrying such outrageous abuses. Some pro football player beating up his girlfriend provided another spike, then an even surge came after the mid-term elections installed Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress for reasons having little to do with anything people were “tweeting” about. After some “tweeting” about the Ebola Virus, which we haven’t acquired yet and had largely forgotten about, the biggest spike came when a grand jury declined to indict that Ferguson police officer, apparently because of the overwhelming physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that he had acted in self-defense, and then there was “tweeting” about Sony’s computer getting hacked and it’s widely-planned comedy release being blackmailed.
Much of “tweeting” public is admirably apolitical, and prefers to express pithy opinions about personal matters, so we were further interested to see what topics had produced the most “tweets” from liberal and conservative “activists.” We’re not sure how these people were identified, but it’s a plausible comparison. Apparently conservatives were most concerned with guns, Iraq, Obamacare, Benghazi, Israel, the Ferguson matter and another black man’s fatal encounter with police, then immigration and the mid-terms. This seems to comport with our conversations with conservatives, although the order would be re-arranged. We’re told that liberals were most concerned with the Ferguson matter, the mid-terms, Obamacare, Iraq, guns, the Koch Brothers, Israel, Russia and Ukraine, then marijuana. Our encounters with liberals suggest they have little interest in foreign countries so long as American corporations are not profiting there, but the rest of it, especially about the Koch Brothers and marijuana, sounds about right.
International crises and cops and robbers and the resulting racial contretemps and the occasional scandal from the sports world will no doubt keep Twitter twittering through the next year, along with the Koch Brothers and marijuana and State of the Union addresses and all the other perennial topics, but we’ll try to form our own judgments of what’s important. We can’t do any worse than the general public or those big-time editors and producers.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Union and Other ‘Shockers

A dear old friend has kindly offered us a ticket to a basketball game pitting the third-ranked and undefeated Wichita State University Wheatshockers against a lightly-regarded Loyola of Illinois Ramblers squad with a losing record, so we’ll have far more important things to do tonight than watch the State of the Union address. We probably would have skipped the speech in any case, however, and expect that most of our countrymen will do the same.
Article II and Section 3 of the constitution require that the president “shall from time give to congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge the necessary,” and we are far fussier sticklers about the constitution than the current president has been, but the practice of an annual oration to a joint session of Congress is a relatively new custom and one whose time has clearly passed. For all the fuss that the networks and the newspapers make about it the speeches have become a drearily predictable affair, as quickly forgotten as a New Year’s resolution, and there is no reason to believe that this year’s edition will be any different. Even without the benefit of leaked transcripts from highly-placed sources we are certain of what will be said, how the chattering classes will react, and what the political consequences will be.
There will be much somber reflection by the networks’ most familiar faces about the earth-shaking importance of the speech, followed by footage of every Democrat and a few forlorn Republicans from purplish districts jockeying for handshake position as the president proceeds with a royal swagger down the aisle toward the podium, along with all the other pomp and circumcision that attends these events. The president will then begin by declaring that the state of the union is sound, without any of the derisive laughter that such a ridiculous claim would ordinarily provoke, and then launch into an over-written, over-long, obviously self-serving account of the nation’s woes. He will briefly touch on the ongoing debacle of Obamacare, touting the few million who have signed on without mentioning that most of them previously had better plans that they liked and were promised they could keep, and he will spend the rest of it blathering endlessly about income inequality and proposing various fanciful solutions to this ineradicable fact of a free society.
All the talking heads on all the news stations save Fox will love it, and do their own endless blathering about how eloquently it was stated, but nothing will become of it but a bunch of ineffectual executive orders. Even the squishiest Republicans from the most purplish districts will not be persuaded, nor will the voters in any of the contested jurisdictions, and every item on the president’s ponderously explained agenda will be soon be a mere bargaining chip in the next round of debt ceiling negotiations. The only thing the president will talk about that might actually occur is immigration reform, as there seems to be some enthusiasm in both parties for flooding an historically weak labor market with millions more unskilled laborers, but the main interest will be in seeing which Republicans applaud and thereby invite a bruising primary challenge.
There will be the usual inspiring baritone delivery, and the gospel music cadences that have long wowed the pundits, but nothing that amounts to must-see TV. We’ll check a post-speech transcript to see what we missed, and it might be worth commenting on, but we’re confident it won’t be anything worth missing a ‘Shocker game.

— Bud Norman

In Quite a State

The state of the union, according to the president’s latest annual oration on the topic, is stronger. Presidents always say this sort thing in State of the Union addresses, regardless of the circumstances, so perhaps President Barack Obama can be forgiven for merely following form.
There isabundant evidence that the state of the union is not nearly so strong as it was when Obama gave his first address, however, and his arguments to the contrary were not convincing. He touted an end to a “decade of war” despite the growing dangers of the world, and boasted of a Fed-inflated stock market bubble. He argued that his massive new bureaucracies mean “consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever,” presumably from those nasty corporations, but seemed unconcerned about what will protect them from the bureaucrats. He further claimed that “we have cleared away the rubble of crisis,” but left unmentioned that we have also piled up an additional $6 trillion or so of debt in the process.
Nothing else in the speech offered much hope that thing the country will soon be strengthened in any noticeable way. Obama threw in some boilerplate language about encouraging free enterprise and rewarding individual initiative, but he seemed to rush through it on his way to calls for higher taxes, more government spending in areas of the economy that have traditionally been left to private enterprise, and an unmistakably collectivist ethic. All of this was couched in the language of “revenues,” “investments,” and “helping folks,” of course, but the point was still clear. He also argued that the government should become “smarter,” a worthy goal, but still seemed smitten with the alternative energy “investments” that have thus far been an expensive diversion from the potential traditional energy boom. Obama’s opponent in the past election was provably smart about investing, though, and Obama managed to convince a majority of voters of that the poor overly-rich fellow should be reviled for it.
The speech also stressed the need to “forge reasonable compromise” to make “some basic decisions about our budget” to avoid the so-called “sequestration” cuts, lamenting the government’s tendency to “drift from one manufactured crisis to the next” without mentioning that the sequestration cuts were his idea. Nor did he mention that the government hasn’t had a budget at all during his time office due to his party’s control of the Senate. He was slightly bi-partisan in noting that “both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion, meaning that they agreed to not go yet another $2.5 trillion in debt, but it was still understood as a warning to the Republicans they should cave early in the upcoming budget negotiations.
More talk of reasonable compromises followed, with Obama generously agreeing to “modest reforms” of the entitlement system so long as they are accompanied by yet another round of “revenue increases.” The multi-trillion dollar shortfalls in the entitlement programs require only slight tweaking, apparently, and so long as those darned rich people pay more Obama seems willing to go along.
Obama added some talk of illegal immigrants and guns, threw in a subtle allusion to homosexuality, and finished with the usual tear-jerking shtick about the little people out there. We were to stunned to follow it after the part about Obamacare driving down health care costs, though, and we assume it was much the same as in past speeches. This was the fifth Obama State of the Union address and there only three to go, unless he decides that those pesky term limits are of more consequences than the rest of the Constitution, so we do feel slightly strengthened by that.

— Bud Norman