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Trump And The Death Of Republican Virtues

A party is united behind an aging New York playboy with no fixed principles but an insatiable urge to be on the front page every single day.

Who's the fairest of them all ...?
Who's the fairest of them all ...?
Garrison Keillor

-OpEd-

For all the fireworks of the French election, please note that Marine Le Pen gave a simple elegant concession speech, congratulating the winner and thanking her supporters and campaign workers. She did not claim voter fraud or a media conspiracy or accuse the government of tapping her phone. She is, after all, French. Liberty, equality ... dignity.

And so our country, the land of the pilgrims' pride where our fathers died, remains No. 1 in blithering tastelessness, naked self-promotion and delusional hypocrisy, thanks to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and James Comey. North Korea is a close No. 2, followed by Sudan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, the Ku Klux Klan, the Fall of Man and the Republican health care plan.

That was a remarkable photo, Republicans on the White House lawn celebrating the House passage of a bucket of horsefeathers. It looked like the Kappa Delts gathered at the country club for the Eight-Ball Roll-"Em and Martini Scramble. Actually it was the D-minus students collecting a pile of partial term papers regurgitated by dogs and sending them to the Senate to be made into something coherent and perhaps defensible. As the man said, nobody knew health care could be so complicated. Good luck, Senator McConnell! Take your time! Read the whole thing!

Senate approval is an archaic legal requirement — so much easier to simply write an executive order stating that everyone gets the care they need, pre-existing conditions or not, a beautiful deal for less money, and let's move on to something else. Sign another order that cancer has been cured — that would pay for everything.

Big Bird is a costume

This guy is in love with the executive order. It's his idea of a selfie. He sits at his bare desk, grinning, holding up the two-page large-print document with his big bold signature, in a nice leather binding like an Award for Meritorious Achievement from the Federation of Organizations, his smiley vice-president looking over his shoulder, a select group of happy citizens clapping. Last week, he signed one assuring ministers of freedom of speech in the pulpit. Next week maybe he'll order ladybugs to fly away home, their house is on fire, their children are gone.

What is so remarkable this spring, as we all wait for the next shoe to drop, is how completely the Republican virtues we grew up admiring — caution, respect for history, attention to the fine print — have been thrown to the winds and the party has united behind an aging New York playboy with no fixed principles except an insatiable urge to be on the front page every single day, including weekends and holidays. It would be like the Democratic Party electing Big Bird and applauding whatever comes out of his big beak.

Big Bird is a costume. There is a person inside it. He says what is in the script. But if he says whatever is going through his mind and starts ranting about conspiracies and TV ratings and the Civil War (how come?), you have a Big Turkey for a leader. Some people might think it edgy and cool to have an eight-foot president covered with yellow feathers, but I believe that most Democrats would not go along with this, even those who feel the party has gone elitist and needs to regain the common touch.

The American people do not wish their president to be on the front page every single day, especially not for saying stupid stuff. They would prefer government to be effective, functional, honest, rational — in other words, boring. Think of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. You want it to operate quietly without drawing attention to itself. You don't want to read in the paper that when you hold a $20 bill up to ultraviolet light now, it says "Invest Kushner" with a blinking 800 number.

Same with the National Park Service. We don't need to sell ad space on the foreheads at Mount Rushmore. The U.S. Coast Guard is a fine operation, if you ask me. Ditto the F.A.A., and so is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — imagine the complexity of it, administering the oceans and the atmosphere — and yet it goes about its mission without fuss. The White House could write up an executive order — "Let the waves be still, let the tides not encroach upon Mar-a-Lago" — but NOAA would simply build an ark for the president and life would go on as before. And that is the whole point.

*Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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