The Wising-Up of a Country

In such strange times as these we were heartened to read that 61 percent of America of thinks the president is a liar. Ordinarily we would find this a worrisome development, but in these extraordinary circumstances we consider it good news that the suckers are wising up.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the Fox News network, so feel free to dismiss it as just another fabrication by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There’s lately been a conspicuous lack of polling that indicates widespread trust in the president’s honesty, however, and we’re inclined to think the 61 percent figure sounds suspiciously low. Only a plurality of 37 percent of the poll’s respondents believe the president lies “most of the time,” with another 24 percent who will only go so far as to say he lies “some of the time,” and we’re left wondering what the rest could possibly be thinking.
Just off the top of our head we can recall the president assuring Americans that they if they liked their health care plans that they could keep them under Obamacare, that the average American family would save $2,500 a year on his premiums, and that all Americans would be covered. We remember a campaign promise that his health care reforms would not include an individual mandate, along with promises that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any sort of tax increase, that the irresponsible and un-patriotic deficits of the Bush administration would be halved with four years, and that after too many years of drone strikes and interventions America’s international standing would be restored by smart diplomacy. There was that whopper on the late night comedy show about the murderous attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi being a spontaneous reaction to some obscure YouTube video, and the whole bit about al Qaeda being on the run, the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups being the work of a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, and talk of the “most transparent administration ever,” and if we were inclined to spend the next several days on Google we’re sure we could come up a long list of other things that can be described as blatant lies.
Die-hard apologists for the administration could probably come up with numerous examples of the president being more or less honest, and if you count all his idle chit-chat about the weather and sleeping time they might even make a case that his lies don’t fill “most of the time,” but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could think they don’t take up at last “some of the time.” Another 20 percent allowed only that the president lies “now and then,” which seems overly generous, and 15 percent insist the president “never” lies, which seems downright worshipful and ridiculous. It’s been a couple of millennia since there was anyone on Earth who never lied, and the president clearly is not the second coming of that fellow.
The same poll shows the president’s approval rating at 42 percent with only 51 percent disapproving, so apparently there is a large number of Americans who believe he is a liar but don’t mind. We’ve even met a few earnest liberals who have offered apparently sincere explanations that the lies were told in the service of some greater good, such as foisting a health care reform law on the country that doesn’t keep any of its promises but screws things up badly enough to make an even worse single-payer system possible, and they clearly believe they are justified in telling further lies. They are acting out of deeply-felt affection for the average working American, as they explain it, and apparently the poor fellows are just stupid to handle the truth.
The latest poll shows that 39 percent of Americans haven’t yet figured out that the president lies somewhere been “most” and “some” of the time, so maybe those earnest liberals are on to something.

– Bud Norman

About these ads

A Race We’d Like to See

A headline on the Drudge Report announced that “Sebelius Eyes Senate Run,” and we couldn’t resist clicking to the story to find out what state she had in mind. Imagine our amusement when we learned it was Kansas.
The story was from The New York Times, a notoriously humorless newspaper, so we assume it isn’t jest. Even so, the notion of Kathleen Sebelius coming back to Kansas for another campaign struck us as every bit as preposterous as anything we’ve encountered lately in the more fanciful internet parody publications. Had the story mentioned Maryland or Virginia or whatever state she’s been living in during her disastrous tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services the idea would have sounded far-fetched but frighteningly within the realm of possibility, and taking her carpetbag to a dementedly Democratic state such as Massachusetts or California would have seemed slightly more plausible, but a Sebelius for Senate campaign here in Kansas left us waiting for a punchline.
It is embarrassingly true that Sebelius was twice elected governor of the state, as the Times hopefully notes, but that was long ago in the pre-Obama age. At a time when things were going well enough in the state that it seemed safe to elect a Democrat she managed to beat a couple of fire-breathing radicals nominated by the more stridently religious elements of the Republican party by presenting herself as as a respectably center-right sort of technocrat. Immediately after her re-election she veered sharply to the left in an apparent bid to endear herself to the national party, and it worked well enough to earn her a cabinet position that would forever associate her with Barack Obama, Obamaism, and its historic achievement of Obamacare. This would be a political impediment in almost any American jurisdiction east of Los Angeles or west of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but in Kansas it is now a provocation to tar and feathers.
Since Sebelius’ last win in the state Kansas has voted overwhelmingly against Obama in both of the past presidential elections, chosen a governor conservative enough to drive all the local lefties crazy, and sent a delegation of rather rock-ribbed Republicans to Congress. Even the most fire-breathing radicals that the religious right might serve up now seem center-right and technocratic compared to Democrats such as Sebelius, and it looks to last at least another election cycle. We ran recently ran into a friend who owes his professional fortunes to the Democratic Party, and we eager to hear his insider’s view on who the party would be running next November. He waved off the question with a groan and a long swig of his drink, then admitted that he didn’t think it mattered. He’s been trying to endear himself to the occasional visitors from the aforementioned conservative governor’s office, even though our friend is among the liberals driven crazy by the governor, and has written off all the other races as well.
The motive for Sebelius’ possible run into this unfriendly environment, according to the Times, is “revenge.” Sen. Pat Roberts is up for re-election this year, and although Roberts once enjoyed a friendly relationship with Sebelius and voted for her confirmation to the HHS post he later accused her of “gross incompetence” and called for her resignation. The accusation was accurate, and the resignation was eventually forthcoming, but reportedly Sebelius wants satisfaction. She’s been out of the state long enough that she might well have deluded herself that she could beat Roberts, and Roberts probably hopes that she has.
Roberts has a slightly better chance of getting knocked off in the primary by a guy named Dr. Milton Wolf. He’s a Kansas City area radiologist who is waging one of those anti-establishment insurgencies that are popping up around the country. Although he’s gotten some traction with the argument that Roberts has been in Washington for a long time and no longer has a residence in Kansas, and that Roberts did after all vote for Sebelius’ confirmation, Wolf is under-funded and made some outrageous and widely-publicized Facebook gaffes with x-rays of his patients, and he is clearly an amateur running against an old pro who is generally well-liked in the state and has lately been toeing the conservative line. We expect a relatively easy win for Roberts in the primary, and an easier one in the general election against anyone the Democrats might put up. If the Democrats put up Sebelius, that would almost be too easy.
The state’s Democrats would probably put her on the ballot, however, if Sebelius is sufficiently self-deluded to make a run. Whenever they know a race is un-winnable the Democrats around here like to run the full-blown lefty lunatics that would win by landslides in the Kansas of their dreams, and when they lose by an ever larger-than-usual margin it allows them to feel superior to an even larger percentage of the state. Sebelius might be willing to sacrifice what little is left of her dignity to the cause of lefty smugness in the Sunflower State, but even the Times story is cautious about that possibility. Several unnamed Democrats are urging Sebelius to run, according to the story, and another unnamed person is said to have said that she’s thinking about it, but that’s pretty much the extent of what the nation’s erstwhile paper of record has to go on. We can’t shake a suspicion that the story was a run as a trial balloon to re-pay some past favor Sebelius did the Times, and that the amused reaction out here will quickly put an end to such ridiculous speculation.

– Bud Norman

So Long, Kathleen

We won’t have Kathleen Sebelius to kick around anymore, and we have to admit we’ll miss the pastime. We were heaping scorn on the woman long before the rest of the country got in on the fun, ever since she was elected Governor of Kansas 12 years ago, and her probably permanent departure from public life will make it hard to break the habit.
Sebelius resigned Thursday as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and although all the send-offs from the big papers and wire services were properly respectful they didn’t seem surprised. Given her undeniably botched roll-out of the administration’s all-important Obamacare boondoggle, as well as the extra-legal delays and waivers and other administrative sleight-of-hand, along with some dubious fund-raising schemes and some past tax questions and other problems the papers were obliged to mention, one might expect any responsible organization hold such a record to account. We were stunned to see it happen in the Obama administration, though, as it is habitually disinclined to admit failure.
Eric Holder has been at least as awful an Attorney General as Sebelius was a Health and Human Services Secretary, for instance, and he spent Thursday whining about how very unfair it is that he has to hear any criticism. No other Attorney General has ever been subjected to such harsh treatment, he griped, and one couldn’t help hearing a subtle suggestion that any white Attorney General could let loose armed thugs intimidating voters or declare that only victims of certain ethnic groups be championed by the Justice Department or be held in contempt of congress for stonewalling an investigation into his gun-running operation without anyone being so rude as to raise an objection. He did his whining to an organization founded by the notorious race-baiting, rabble-rousing buffoon Al Sharpton, which was predictably sympathetic, but we suspect an audience of Ed Meese and John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and the rest of the past Republican Attorneys General would have been more skeptical.
At least Sebelius was willing to fall on her sword, and without resort to any insinuations that sexism had anything to do with it. Maybe she’s saving that for her inevitable memoirs, but for now it’s the sort of graceful departure the country once expected of its failed public servants. We can almost whip up a wee bit of sympathy for a one-time Kansas gal who was stuck with the unenviable job of implementing something so fundamentally flawed as Obamacare. She did shell out a gazillion dollars to some crony Canadian computer company for a widely-ridiculed web site, however, and just about everything else she did was capricious and corrupt, so it’s just a wee bit. Her reportedly voluntary but much-desired resignation was obviously intended to help in the administration’s effort to convince the public that the problem isn’t the law itself but just its previously inept implementation, so come to think of we can’t even give her much credit for that.
One of the shriller right-wing was angrily wondering the other day how this woman ever got elected as governor in such a conservative state as Kansas, and we declined his invitation to callers from the state to offer an explanation. The host is rather harsh, and we were concerned he might not want to hear that it happened because a recently triumphant and thoroughly revved-up religious wing of the Republican party won the nomination for a candidate so shrill and angry that Sebelius was able to pass herself off as pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat. She actually governed that way for her first time, or at least we don’t remember to being too riled about anything she did, and she stayed out of the news well enough to win re-election over another fire-breather. She then took a turn to the left, however, and was clearly looking to endear herself to the Democratic party’s liberal base rather than her own state’s more conservative voters. One low point came when the once-lovely little town of Greensburg was wiped out by a tornado, and Sebelius falsely claimed that recovery efforts had been hampered by a lack of National Guard equipment due to the Iraq War. The ploy worked well enough to gain Sebelius a prominent post in the Obama during its heady early days, and she no doubt thought that it would lead to even greater things, but her career now seems to have come to a more fitting conclusion.
Sebelius will likely find some sinecure on a corporate board or in academia or at some lucrative lobbying outfit, but the past talk of her presidential or vice-presidential possibilities won’t be repeated. The Democrats will be running another candidate for governor this year, and already have another pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat woman lined up for Lieutenant Governor, but we’re not expecting them to invite Sebelius to any of their campaign events.

– Bud Norman

Rumblings in California

The fault lines running through California are becoming active, and we don’t mean that in the seismological sense.
For some time we’ve been eagerly anticipating the fissures within the liberal coalition to start cracking, leading to a long-overdue political earthquake. Modern liberalism isn’t so much an ideology as a loose confederation of ethnic and economic interest groups, whose interests are often in conflict, and even the rigid discipline that the Democratic party somehow commands cannot keep it stable forever. The big shake-ups and crack-ups that occasionally roil across America’s cultural and political life often originate in California, and two recent stories out of the Golden State suggest that it might be happening again.
One concerned the California Assembly’s attempts to restore affirmative action at the state’s universities, a cause dear to liberal hearts. Affirmative action is especially dear to the hearts of liberal blacks and Latinos, who are allowed admission to the more desirable universities with inferior qualifications than other applicants, but is not as popular with liberal Asians, who often are the other applicants who are denied admission despite their superior qualifications. The old system that California voted down was so convoluted that whites with lesser academic credentials were favored over harder-working Asians, which endeared the scam to liberal whites even if didn’t quite fit with their rationale that affirmative action is rectifying past injustices, but most of the Democrats in the Assembly were eager to restore it.
The measure now seems unlikely to pass, however, because the Asian-American members of the party are refusing to go along. There are enough of them that when you add their total to the Republican Party’s puny representation it can quash such nonsense, apparently, and if they start to realize how often their economic interests coincide with those mean old white men from Orange County or wherever the last few California Republicans come from it might even thwart a lot of the other bad ideas that become law in California.
The other story concerned the far-left’s ongoing crime spree against the high-tech industry. With “economic inequality” currently the favorite gripe of liberalism the more active liberals in Northern California have lately been vandalizing the opulent buses provided by the Google company to its well-paid employees, and in recent days they’ve become tipping over those tiny “smart cars” favored by the high-tech workers. Silicon Valley has been a reliable source of funds and votes for the Democrats for many years, the Google buses are intended to cut down on traffic congestion and fuel consumption and global warming and all those other things that liberals profess to hate, but for now it’s apparently more progressive to hate anyone making a certain amount of money. Those tipped-over “smart cars” even sported the obligatory Obama for President bumper stickers, but even such displays of righteousness will not spare you the wrath of income inequality mob. Some are claiming those Obama bumper stickers suggest the work of right-wingers, as if mobs of mayhem-minded Romney voters are terrorizing the streets of San Francisco, but it would be hard for even the party-loyal anarchist to find a car in that city without one.
The Google executives who’ve found angry mobs on their front yards are loyal Democrats, but perhaps they’ll reconsider as it becomes apparent that the guillotine is being sharpened for them as well as those rich industrialists. Silicon Valley is as steadfastly capitalist as any Kansas oil field, after all, and it’s hard to see how they’ve benefited from all the regulations and taxations they’ve helped to impose on all their customers. We’ve always suspected their leftist leanings were mostly motivated by a desire to be hip, but as they age into proper industrialist maturity and realize that angry mobs and vandalized buses are now the height of hipness they might even take their natural place in the Republican party.
Or maybe not. The discipline of the Democratic party has proved strong, and they’ve been able to cobble together new confederations out of different ethnic and economic interests as some the old ones prospered just enough to move on, and they might be able to whip up enough race- and class-baiting to keep the current one intact. If so, we’ll need fault lines of the seismological sort to solve the California problem.

– Bud Norman

Happy Equal Pay Day

Tuesday was “Equal Pay Day,” by presidential proclamation, but we did not mark the occasion an appropriate observance. By habit we try not to pay anybody for anything, and on those occasions when we find it unavoidable we seem to wind up shelling out at least as much to women as to men, so there was no opportunity to address the sexist economic inequality that the president hoped to address with the holiday. We could have baked a cake, we suppose, but at the moment we don’t know any sufficiently put-upon women in need of the gift.
Still, we enjoyed watching the president make a fool of himself with his ostentatiously designated day. The day was so designated as a way to hype the president’s signing of an executive order to address a supposed gap in the pay between women and men, as the distaff side is supposedly making only 77 centers for every dollar earned by the more brutish sex, but even the ost reliably news outlets were disinclined to play along.
That hackneyed 77 cents statistic has been thoroughly debunked, for one thing, by numerous commonsensical economists who immediately noticed that it does not take into account the typically longer years that tend to be worked by men or the other relevant factors. Worse yet, the White House’s hapless spokespeople were forced to admit as mud when even the likes of The New York Times and The Cable News Network were asking about an American Enterprise Institute study that found the White House was paying its women only 88 cents to the dollar earned by its is menfolk. The sputtering responses are priceless bits of political humor, and probably not at all what the president intended.

They could boast that least they were better than that nasty old private sector, but the stench of hypocrisy was still easily divisible. The president had earlier given a speech about how the pay gap is “not a myth, it’s math,” but underlings with the unenviable chore of answering questions couldn’t rely on such catchy turns of phrase. The same math that yields the 77 percent figure for the economy at large yields the 88 percent figure for the White House, leaving the press secretary to protest that you need to take into account all those other factors that render the 77 percent figure absurd.

All of this was impolitely acknowledged even in the mainstream news reports, where it was also noted how neatly it plays into the “Republicans’ War on Women” theme that has served the Democratic party in recent years, but we’d like to get a few more far-right kicks in. It should be noted that sexual discrimination in pay has been illegal since Mary Richards griped about it to Lou Grant on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” way back in the ’70s, and that the president’s bold executive order does little more than nibble at the edges of the statute of limitations on job-killing lawsuits. Any put-upon women in need of our cakes already have plenty of legal recourses.

– Bud Norman

The Rising Price of Dissent

A friend of ours is an outspoken proponent of same-sex marriage, even though he is quite heterosexual and otherwise seems to have no enthusiasm for the institution of marriage, and he was recently exulting about how his side seems to be winning. He pulled his little telecommunications machine out of his pocket and showed us a commercial produced by the Honey Maid corporation, which told of show they had taken all the negative letters mailed to them about another recent commercial showing a same-sex couple and turned them into some sort of conceptual artwork, and he seemed pleased that the power of corporate America and Madison Avenue had at long last been turned the final holdouts of hateful bigots still opposed to same se-sex marriage. We mentioned that the highly-regarded chief executive officer of a large internet company had recently been forced to resign because of his past donation to an anti-same-sex marriage campaign in a California referendum, and our friend noted rather defensively that the fellow had after been given a chance to recant his previous position.
Although we have grown weary of the whole same-sex marriage controversy, the conversation was unsettling. We found the Honey Maid advertisement about the same-sex coupling offputtingly smug and self-satisfied, and its theme of “This Is Wholesome” particularly preachy, but it didn’t bother us because we doubted it would persuade anyone to purchase the company’s products or reconsider their political viewpoints. The part about allowing the embattled internet executive to recant his views was rather chilling, though, as it evoked the image of bespectacled, violin-playing intellectuals confessing their political thought crimes to before the cadres of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. We couldn’t help wondering if re-education camps might be looming. Whatever misgivings we might have about same-sex marriage as a result of our our Burkean cultural instincts and Judeo=Christian religious upbringing we have almost reached the point where we’re eager to see all our homosexual friends rendered as domesticated as the rest of us, but this broader business of punishing any heterodoxy against the liberal pieties is becoming intolerable.
It’s not just same-sex marriage but a much broader ranger of issues that will bring down the wrath of the newly fledged establishment on anyone who dares utter a dissenting word or write an offending campaign contribution check. Despite the indifference of much of the press the Internal Revenue Service has harassed conservative non-profit groups, a matter the president has dismissed as a “phony scandal” even as the IRS honcho at the center of it all is very genuinely invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Anyone skeptical of the the most alarmist warnings about anthropogenic global warming is scorned by polite opinion as a “denier” or member of the “Flat Earth Society,” which hardly hurts our feelings, but when such a formidable writer and wit as Mark Steyn finds himself in an expensive court case over some well deserved ridicule of a thoroughly debunked “climate scientist” it is is a daunting reminder of how very far the alarmists will go to quash debate. Our favorite local billionaire has lately been denounced on the floor of the United States Senate by the majority of that once-august body as “un-American” for promoting his pro-capitalist views, and the poor fellow and his brother are publicly protested even when they throw a hundred million or so to a new hospital wing. In academia conservative speakers are routinely met with brown shirt tactics by censorious mobs, and conservative scholars are frequently denied tenure. Conservative politicians are subject to special scrutiny not only by the increasingly inconsequential media but also by the evermore powerful prosecutors.
We are constitutionally inoculated against the blandishments of Madison Avenue and have always enjoyed a voluntary relationship with corporate America, and we’re confident that our friend will draw the line at guillotines and a full-blown reign of terror, but the bare-knuckles nature of the progressive movement and its corporate and political allies will likely prove more troublesome. Anyone who’s endured “sensitivity training” in a corporate job knows that the prospect of re-education camps isn’t so far-fetched, and any of the increasing number of dissenters who have been subjected to the scrutiny of the IRS or any of a countless number of other acronym agencies, or have been hauled into a court to account for the opinions, knows that something sinister is afoot. Once upon a dark time in America punishing people with economic and legal consequences for the political opinions was known as “McCarthyism,” but ow we’l have to find some more polite term for it.

– Bud Norman

Politics on the Playground

A prominent member of the House of Representatives has offered a budget proposal, and the President of the United States has publicly called it a “stink burger.”
There’s much to be said about the budget proposed by Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, as well as the alternative put forth a few weeks back by President Barack Obama, but we’ll happily leave it all unsaid. Neither proposal has any chance of becoming law, so we find it far more interesting and worrisome that our political discourse has devolved to the point of “stink burger.”
Obama was once widely lauded as the greatest orator since Demosthenes, but surely even his most awe-struck admirers will admit that “stink burger” is not quite eloquent enough to justify that reputation. There were kids on the playground at Kistler Elementary School who could come up with more creative insults, and by the time they had graduated to Brooks Junior High and foul language they didn’t sound nearly so juvenile. We have no idea how taunting is done on the playgrounds of Honolulu’s ritzier private schools or at Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but we had hoped for something a little more high-brow. We certainly expect more of a President of the United States, as we can fondly recall a time when even a relatively low-brow Vice President could come up with something as alliterative and snappy as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
The “stink burger” slur reportedly went over well with Obama’s audience at the University of Michigan. This does not speak well for the state of higher education, where a higher-toned sort of malicious slander once prevailed, but perhaps they were just grateful to be spared all the boring details of the budget debate. Obama also called Ryan’s budget proposal a “meanwich,” which seems to imply that he finds it parsimonious, which is almost an actual argument, and even a modern-day college student can understand why the president preferred to avoid any specifics.
Ryan’s allegedly radical right-wing proposal is rather tepid stuff, after all, at least by the standards of we actual right-wing radicals. The plan would take ten years to reach a balanced budget, must less begin to eat into $17 trillion of debt, and is mean only the sense that your parents were mean when they wouldn’t give you a pony. You’d probably get that long-awaited pony if the Obama budget proposal were passed, but it is based on the equally fanciful notion that a nation can live happily ever after on trillions of dollars of indefinitely continued debt. That’s a hard argument to make, even to a student full of empty-headed college students, and is best expressed in terms of “stink burger.”

– Bud Norman

The Debate is Over

The debate about Obamacare is over, according to a presidential pronouncement, and it seems a shame. There was a lot more grousing about it that we’d plan to do, now we’ll have to cancel that sarcastic skit we’d written for the upcoming “Gridiron” show, and the public is stuck with a spectacularly stupid law.
Perhaps the debate will rage on, despite the president’s protests, but he does seem to have an eerie power to end any arguments that he’s losing. The Benghazi scandal disappeared from the news shortly after his Secretary of State declared “What difference, at this point, does it make?” The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups has been similarly ignored after the president dismissed it as a “phony scandal,” even though the woman at the middle of it of all has quite genuinely invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The arguments about fiascos from Fast and Furious to Solyndra to whatever happened to all that stimulus spending have all been as abruptly truncated.
All those cancellations of policies and increases in health insurance bills and the death panels passing judgment on grandma and the rest of it will make Obamacare harder to ignore, but the left’s power to put an end to losing arguments should not be underestimated. Even with the coldest winter in memory stubbornly stretching into April after a decade-and-a-half of global cooling the debate about anthropogenic global warming has been declared over, and most of the media have obediently obliged. A relatively recent bout over the five millennia-old tradition of marriage has also been stopped on a technical knock-out, and the half of the country with lingering doubts has effectively been banished from the mainstream of contemporary society. Any debate about the social acceptability of white racism has been thoroughly ceased, which is a good thing, but some very non-racist debate about affirmative action and inner-city crime and other issues that have baleful effects on minorities have also been stopped.
Around the time of the president’s first election Time Magazine declared on its cover that “We Are All Socialists Now,” and that seems to have settled that. If America isn’t quite yet socialist by consensus, we’re at least far enough along that the Majority Leader of the United States Senate can confidently slander the Koch brothers as “un-American” for their pro-capitalism activities and anybody with concerns about that $17 trillion of debt is easily dismissed a radical anti-government kook. Arguments about the basic assumptions of the New Deal welfare and regulatory state were declared over more than 60 years ago, with even such a stalwart Republican as Ronald Reagan being unwilling to do more than try to retain their old limits, and they’ve been barreling towards their illogical conclusions ever since.
We think that these debates never really go away, though, even if they have to be revived by catastrophe. We’d also like to think that Americans still have a stubborn unwillingness to submit to stupid laws, and that enough argument can avert catastrophes, but that’s debatable.

– Bud Norman

Another Darned Deadline

Deadlines are the bane of a writer’s existence, but none have been so annoying as the deadline for enrollment in Obamacare.
Despite our best efforts to ignore it, that seemed to be all that was in the news on Monday. The right-wing radio hosts would grouse about it for most of the hour, raising all sorts of reasonable questions about the numbers the administration was touting, and then the network news feeds would fill a few minutes with a breathless recitation of the same numbers and none of the required answers, and one of the television networks was giddily announcing a new poll that shows almost half the country likes the law. On the whole, the right-wing radio hosts were more convincing.
The law’s eponymous administration is claiming that it might reach a goal of seven million enrollees, but the number is as dubious as that poll show near-majority approval. So far no one’s saying how many of those enrollees have actually paid a premium, or how many previously had insurance that was cancelled because of the law, or how many have put on Medicaid or other programs that pre-dated Obamacare, or how many of them that are the healthy young people forced to buy more insurance than they need in order to subsidize the whole boondoggle, and even the most generous assumptions of governmental honesty and the most optimistic guesses still leave them short of covering all the 20 or 30 million or however many uninsured people they were promising to help. The upbeat coverage of deadline might have left the impression that is all is well, but even the most trusting and optimistic media will eventually be obliged to report more discouraging stories.
In the meantime, we expect more happy talk from the press about Obamacare’s progress. Whatever problems prove too hard to ignore, we expect the Democratic congressional candidates will promise to fix them, and that no one on the networks will ask why they didn’t fix them in the first place. Nor will they ask what’s going to happen when the administration finally gets around to the disasters employers’ mandate, as that deadline can always be put off until after the next elections.

– Bud Norman

The Write Stuff

Back in our newspaper days we watched the typesetters, inserters, many of the pressmen, and even much of the clerical staff gradually fade away from the industry, all victims of the relentless progress of automation. We were especially saddened to see the departure of the typesetters, whose painstakingly learned sleight of hand was as entertaining to watch as any of those plate-spinners who used to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, but we always reassured ourselves that a flesh-and-ink-stained-blood human being would always be required to write the stories.
Now we learn that even the all-too-human art of writing news stories can be mastered by mere machines. The Los Angeles Times has already run a story written by what is ominously called a “writer-bot,” and according to the chief technical officer of a company called Narrative Science, another ominous coinage, as much of 90 percent of all news stories will be computer-generated rather than human-written by 2030. This is after our hoped-for retirement date, but the apparent advent of the automated reporter is still a sobering enough development to make us reconsider our career path.
It seems a shame to leave so many decades of journalistic experience unused, however, so we’re thinking of getting on this computer-generated news racket. The classical economists’ answer to automation has always been that it creates a new job for every one it destroys, as people as required to design and build and maintain the machines doing the work, so we’ll simply get involved in the program-writing end of the biz. How hard can it be, after all? There’s something to do with algorithms, we’re told, and so far as we can tell that has nothing to do with Al Gore, but we’ll just get some unemployed computer geek to take care of that gobbledygook while we provide the necessary instructions. Many decades of being reprimanded by mainstream news editors have taught us all the rules of modern journalism, and it should be a relatively simple task to get a machine to obey them.
At the risk of revealing proprietary information, we’ll share with any potential investors out there a few of the stylebook entries we’ll have programmed into our machines. By following these few simple rules our computer-written copy should meet all the requirements of modern journalism.
First of all, any political story with the word “scandal” should omit any mention of the subject’s party affiliation unless he is a Republican. Any economics story bearing bad news should include the word “unexpectedly,” unless a Republican occupies the White House, in which case the words “dire” and “cataclysmic” will be added. All reports of Islamist-inspired terrorism must include a reference to the “religion of peace,” as well as some vague allusion to Israeli intransigence. Stories regarding the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative activist groups will not be written at all, but immediately replaced with the salacious details of the Kardashian clan’s most recent sexual exploits. Partial-birth abortions will described as “what opponents call partial-birth abortions,” at least until proponents can decide what to call it. All stories making reference to the Koch brothers must include the phrase “billionaire businessman, while those mentioning George Soros should use “philanthropist” and “social activist.” Crime stories must omit any mention of race or sex, unless the suspect is white and male, and just to be safe the neighborhood in which the crime occurred should also go unmentioned. Any mention of President Barack Obama should be free of any unflattering adjectives, and any accompanying photographs should be altered to include a suitably hagiographic halo effect.
There are lots more rules, as we have learned through hard experience, but that just means plenty of lucrative work for the aspiring journalistic programmer. The rules keep changing, too, depending on who’s in office, so this scam might yet get us over until the hoped-for retirement date.

– Bud Norman

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers