– Bud Norman
– Bud Norman
The Univision network isn’t a staple of our sparse television diet, mostly because we don’t habla español or watch soccer, but we must now tip our hat to the same good folks that give the world Sãbado Gigante. Although the network serves a mostly Hispanic audience, it did the entire nation a favor on Thursday by actually lobbing a few tough questions at Barack Obama.
This is such an unusual occurrence that the combative nature of the questions proved more newsworthy than the questionable answers they provoked. Even the reliably liberal Politico, which has had plenty of opportunities to pose a tough question or two, was forced to concede that Obama “faced some of the toughest questioning of his reelection campaign to date.”
Host Jorge Ramos demanded to know why the president had failed to pass a promised immigration reform law even when his party held overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress, prompting Obama to go right ahead and blame the Republicans Ramos, but Ramos retorted that “You promised that, and a promise is a promise, and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.” Ramos was as aggressive in asking about the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning operation, which resulted in the death of more than 200 Mexicans as well as an American law enforcement agent, and when Obama blamed the Bush administration and some unnamed low-level employees Ramos posed a follow-up question about why Attorney General Eric Holder shouldn’t be fired.
Proving that Hispanics also care about the same national security issues as the rest of the right-thinking people in America, Ramos also asked some unexpectedly tough questions about the deadly attack on the American consulate in Libya. Ignoring the query about why the United States wasn’t better prepared for the violence, Obama continued to blame the incident on a rarely-seen and amateurishly produced movie and said that he was awaiting the results of investigation before concluding if the attack was terrorism.
Numerous stories have been published lately detailing the lax security at the consulate and the warnings from foreign governments that were ignored, all of them embarrassing to the administration, but most have come from the foreign press and none of them have gotten the screaming headlines and indignant broadcasts that would have surely occurred if such a screw-up had been committed a Republican administration. If Obama seemed a big weak in his response, it can be attributed to his surprise that anyone should ask such impertinent questions.
– Bud Norman
A few days ago we were splashing around a friend’s backyard pool, a much appreciated invitation in a Kansas summer, and a woman of our mutual acquaintance who had dropped by made a complimentary remark about the wooden gateway and concrete base that our friend had recently built. “You didn’t build that,” we teased him, “somebody else made that happen.” Our friend chuckled knowingly at the witticism, but the woman of our mutual acquaintance was clearly perplexed by it. We helpfully explained that the remark was an allusion to President Barack Obama’s recent speech in Roanoke, Virginia, where he made the very same comment about America’s business owners, and she was not the least embarrassed to admit that she had no idea what we were talking about.
Her ignorance of the speech left us looking perplexed. After all, the speech had been widely reported by almost all of the media, touched off a week’s worth of debate among the chattering classes, been highlighted by a widely disseminated advertisement from the Romney campaign, and it’s “You didn’t built that” line had immediately become as iconic an epigram for Obama’s administration as “I didn’t have sex with that woman” had been for Bill Clinton’s. We had assumed that the phrase was by then as ubiquitous as a catch phrase from “Laugh-In” or “Seinfeld,” and that even the most obstinately ignorant Americans would be aware of it, so it came a surprise that such a sentient woman could have somehow been aware of it.
People do manage to avoid hearing of such things, though, and often enough that we really shouldn’t have been surprised by the woman’s apparently blissful ignorance. We can recall another conversation with a young fellow who boasted of how the current administration had gone three years without a single scandal, which he clearly regarded as a most remarkable accomplishment. We asked if he didn’t consider the Fast and Furious operation, with its Keystone Kops plotline and massive body count, or find the Solyndra fiasco, with its mix of high-minded “green” idealism and corrupt cronyism, to be scandals. We then threw in the resignations of admitted communist Van Jones and the Mao-admiring Anita Dunn, the Justice Department’s lax attitude towards black supremacist voter intimidation, and a few other choice contretemps, asking if he didn’t find any of these the least bit scandalous. He was not only unfamiliar with any of the stories, but dubious that they had happened at all, and angrily demanded to know if we had heard these scurrilous lies on the Fox network.
An aversion to news outlets that provide news challenging to one’s own opinions is part of the problem. Politically-minded people who only want to hear things that deify their guy and impugn the others can now easily find a suitable magazine, network or internet site. This phenomenon leads some media critics to pine for the old days when everyone in the country got their news from the same three networks, a few newsweeklies, or the lone daily newspaper, but it’s likely that if the old order were still in place even right-wing news junkies such as ourselves wouldn’t have heard anything in the past four years or so that suggests the current administration hasn’t been scandal-free and wildly successful in all its efforts.
A larger part of the problem, alas, is that so many people don’t bother to seek out any information on current events even in the most sympathetic media. In some cases this is a result of cynicism, in others mere apathy, and oftentimes plain old stupidity, but in no cases does it ever prevent the ignorant from feeling entitled to an opinion and a vote.
The determinedly unaware segment of the population tends to vote Democrat, or so we have observed, and for a variety of reasons. Those who don’t follow the news still wind up hearing the generally left-leaning views of late night comedians, movie stars, and other opinion-makers, and never hear of the arguments advanced by the less glamorous but better-informed pundits. Hearing the anti-business tirade that Obama launched in Roanoke might not have dissuaded the woman at the pool from voting for him, as she shares the president’s resentment of the prosperous entrepreneurs, but at least it would have forced to her form some coherent argument for her envy.
On the other hand, she might never hear that Mitt Romney is a dog-torturing, woman-hating, tax-evading cad who somehow made money by sending his businesses into bankruptcy and then killed a factory worker’s wife. She’s also unlikely to avoid the mounting evidence of economic decline that daily confronts everyone who has to work for a living, whether they ever pick up paper or not, and no one will get the opportunity to explain that it’s all the fault of the people who have been out of power the past several years.
– Bud Norman
An upcoming House vote on holding Attorney General Eric in contempt of Congress has forced reluctant news media to belatedly explain the Fast and Furious scandal, but so far no one has offered a satisfactory explanation of what the heck those government agents were thinking when they launched the now-infamous “botched law enforcement operation.” We don’t know, either, but offer the following scenario, an entirely fictitious account first presented as a skit at the annual Gridiron show, as one possibility.
(Scene opens at a hearing of a Senate investigating committee, with Senators Forehead, Cheeks, Chin and Lips seated at a table. Across from them is Chip Wilson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.)
SEN. FOREHEAD: This session of the Senate’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious will now come to order. Our first witness is Mr. Chip Wilson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the man who devised this program. Mr. Wilson, could you please tell us what Operation Fast and Furious was all about?
WILSON: Certainly, Senator. Operation Fast and Furious was a program carried out by the BATF under the auspices of our supervisory agency, the Department of Justice. Basically, the program involved our facilitating the sale of more than 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to various Mexican drug gangs.
SEN. FOREHEAD: You purposely helped in the sale of 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to Mexican drug gangs?
SEN. CHEEKS: I’m sorry, Mr. Wilson, but I have to ask you this. Why on earth would you ever facilitate the sale of more than 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to Mexican drug gangs?
WILSON: We wanted to see if anything bad would happen.
SEN. CHIN: Good lord, man, those guns have been linked to more than 200 murders. I think it’s fair to say that something bad did happen.
WILSON: Yes, and now we know. In that regard, at least, I think the operation has to be considered an unqualified success.
SEN. CHIN: Mr. Wilson, one of the murder victims was an American immigration agent. Several Mexican policemen and government officials were also killed.
WILSON: With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think it’s productive to quibble over who’s responsible for whose bloody murder. The important thing is that we now have definitive proof that Mexican drug gangs are not the kind of people you want to be selling heavy weaponry to. If you don’t think that’s important, Senator, well, frankly, I’m disappointed by how very incurious you are.
SEN. LIPS: Mr. Wilson, I am shocked that this cockamamie operation of yours ever won approval from the Department of Justice. When did Attorney General Holder learn of this?
WILSON: I recall that Attorney General Holder testified before this very committee that he learned of it in May of 2011, so I’ll go with that.
SEN. LIPS: We have e-mails from you and other officials discussing this matter with him that are dated well before that.
SEN. FOREHEAD: What I’d like to know, Mr. Wilson, is how a person such as yourself ever wound up an employee of a federal agency.
WILSON: Well, Senator, ever since I was a kid there was nothing I loved more than drinkin’, smokin’ and shootin’ off guns. So when I heard that there was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, well, it seemed a good fit. I soon discovered that I had been somewhat misled by the name about the kind of work they do there, but by then I was a government employee, and as you know, there was no getting rid of me at that point.
SEN. CHEEKS: Mr. Wilson, do you have any professional or academic credentials for your job?
WILSON: Well … KU. Senator, if it makes you feel any better, I have recently accepted a reassignment and will be leaving my current post.
SEN. FOREHEAD: Well, I’m sure we can all be grateful for that.
– Bud Norman
This Fast and Furious business keeps getting worse for the Obama administration.
A House oversight committee voted on Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over requested documents about the “gun-walking” fiasco, and it’s likely that next week the full House will do the same. Most Americans hold Congress in some degree of contempt, and Holder’s invocation of executive privilege raises the sort of complicated legal issues that send the average voter in search of a celebrity sex scandal or a box score, but the story should nonetheless undermine public confidence in the president and his appointees to some extent.
A contempt of Congress vote is the sort of thing that the major media outlets feel obliged to report on, no matter how much they’d prefer to ignore it, and in this case it will require that they give their readers and viewers some background information about the Fast and Furious operation. A government program that provided Mexican drug gangs with thousands of weapons and resulted in the death of an American law enforcement agent and hundreds of Mexicans apparently is the sort of that major media outlets don’t feel obliged to report on, at least not during a Democratic administration, and even the fact that an Attorney General’s sworn testimony was contradicted by documents got little play in the news, so many Americans will be hearing the basic facts of the scandal for the first time. None of those facts reflect well on the administration, nor do any of them have anything whatsoever to do with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, so the best that the Obama campaign and its media allies can hope for is to limit the damage.
Holder’s refusal to turn over the documents is seemingly part of the damage control effort, but it will inevitably raise suspicions about what it is that he doesn’t want the public to know. Given how very embarrassing the already known facts are, and the political cost of provoking a contempt vote that puts the tragic story into prominent play, the obvious conclusion is that the documents are pretty darned damning.
The rest of the Democrats’ responses seem similarly counter-productive. The ever-loyal Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is blaming the Bush administration, even after Holder’s Justice Department officially gave up on that ploy, while other Democratic apologists are blaming the controversy on Republican racism, even though the charge necessarily implies that the death of a couple hundred Mexicans is no big deal. We suspect that many Americans are already weary of hearing Bush and racism offered as excuses for the administration’s failings, and in this case it will likely prove especially grating.
– Bud Norman
A Democrat friend of ours — we have several of them, for some reason — assures us that the recent scandals arising from the Fast and Furious operation and a series of national security leaks won’t have any effect on the president’s re-election bid. This seems to be a common assumption among Democrats, including the president.
They’re right to the extent that the economy will be the most important issue in the race, and they have ample reason to be cynical about the public’s interest in complicated stories that don’t directly affect the average American’s pocketbook, but we suspect that they’re underestimating how very bad these stories make them look. With official investigations underway and a bi-partisan outrage simmering in Congress, even the friendliest news media are finding it impossible to continue ignoring the scandals, and they will have nothing to report that isn’t embarrassing to the administration.
The House Oversight Committee will vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding requested documents about the Fast and Furious operation, which is the kind of thing that major news organizations are obliged to report no matter how distasteful they might find it, and the stories will necessarily entail informing the public that there was a Fast and Furious operation to begin with. This can only be hurtful to the re-election as there is no way of explaining the cockamamie scheme, which entailed permitting the sale of hundreds of weapons to Mexican drugs gangs and predictably resulted in hundreds of deaths, that doesn’t make the administration seem dangerously incompetent. The stories will also have to acknowledge the fact that Holder has indeed been withholding the requested documents, raising the inescapable suspicion that those documents must contain something that the administration is very eager to conceal. Every story will also remind the public that Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States, another fact that can only undermine confidence in the man who appointed him.
After helping the Clinton administration arrange the presidential pardon for notorious fugitive financier and loyal campaign contributor Marc Rich, Holder came into his office with a questionable reputation, then proceeded to further infuriate his many critics by dropping a won case of voter intimidation against members of the New Black Panther Party, lecturing the American people about their cowardly reluctance to engage in conversation about race, forcing states into court for enforcing their immigration and voting laws, seeking a criminal court trial on American soil for terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and generally being an annoyance to the country. Several congressmen have lately demanded that Holder resign for his role in Fast and Furious, and at this point he must be considered a political liability for the administration.
The perception that Holder is a political actor rather than an impartial law enforcement official has spilled over to the controversy about the four major security breaches that have recently wound up on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Holder has appointed two Justice Department officials to look into the matter, one of them an Obama campaign contributor, but congressional Republicans are understandably skeptical about their impartiality and are therefore demanding a special investigator. Special investigators are another of those things that major news media feel obliged to report, and the results are never pretty. In this case there are serious concerns about the government’s ability to protect the country, and the details all undermine the president’s carefully cultivated tough-on-terrorism image.
– Bud Norman
The economy is the big story in the presidential race, of course, but all the small stories also have some cumulative effect. Looking over the latest offerings in the news, the small stories also seem be going to badly for the incumbent.
A group of four prominent legislators — including the impeccably liberal Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California — held a joint news conference Thursday to announce that they are thoroughly irked about a recent spate of leaks of classified information. These include a New York Times report about the American role in a computer virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear program, an Associated Press report about the latest “underwear bomber” that revealed a western spy in Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate, another New York Times story about the president’s weekly “kill list” of drone assassination targets, and stories in the New York Times and Britain’s Guardian that led to the identification of a Pakistani doctor who helped provide information for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In each case there is a suspicion that the leaks were intended to bolster the president’s tough-on-terrorism reputation, which has apparently replaced the soft-on-terrorism sales pitch of ’08, and there are further allegations that the White House leaked information to a Hollywood director making a movie that glorifies Obama’s role in the bin Laden raid.
The “Fast and Furious” operation, which involved the U.S. government intentionally allowing the sale of hundreds of weapons to Mexican drug gangs and resulted in more than 200 murder, is also back in the news. The basic facts of the scandal have always been embarrassing to the administration, at least to the extent that they’ve been widely reported, but Thursday made it even worse. Forced to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee, despite a months-long effort at stonewalling, Attorney General Eric Holder wound up insisting that internal Justice Department memos which specifically mentioned a Fast and Furious operation weren’t actually referring to that Fast and Furious operation. Holder’s interrogator, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, seemed unimpressed with the answer, as will most Americans paying attention. Even the usually supportive sections of the press, and although they’ll try to help out by keeping the story short and at the bottom of an inside page it will be hard to ignore the story once Holder is cited for contempt of Congress or perhaps indicted for perjury.
There has also been a great deal of speculation about former President Bill Clinton’s apparent effort to sabotage the Obama campaign. After his statements about the current president provided the title for the latest Obama-bashing best-seller, “The Amateur,” Clinton took to the newscasts to defend Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s record as a private equity investor at Bain Capital, then to announce that the country was in recession and needed to retain all of the Bush-era tax rates. He was also heard boasting of the four balanced budgets that he signed as president, which can reasonably be taken as an implied criticism of Obama’s more profligate ways, and seemed to quite enjoy the widespread speculation that his statements had provoked. He later apologized, a Clinton specialty, but even in doing so he seemed to damn Obama with such faint praise as “a better job than some people give him credit for.”
With mighty effort we have composed an entire paragraph about Clinton without resorting to a fellatio joke, but we’re now forced to address the matter of Obama’s alleged cunnilingus joke. While speaking in Los Angeles at yet another of a seeming non-stop series of fundraisers, Obama mentioned his wife’s televised push-up contest with talk show hostess Ellen Degeneres and remarked that Michelle was accused of cheating by her rival “because she doesn’t go all the way down.” Given that Degeneres is famously lesbian, that going all the way down has a certain gutter connotation, and that Obama delivered the line with the beat-and-a-half timing of a Shecky Greene, provoking nervous laughter from his show biz-savvy audience, the line was taken as a risqué double-entendre. Obama denies it, naturally, but his denial is approximately as convincing as Holder’s claim that the Justice Department memos were raving about the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise.
– Bud Norman
By now almost everyone has heard about the controversial answer Obama gave to a question about the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare, but few people have noticed what wasn’t asked at that press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
With Harper standing right there next to Obama, it seemed a perfect opportunity to ask a question or two about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Harper was reportedly confounded and infuriated by Obama’s decision to block construction of the pipeline, and is proceeding with plans to sell his country’s oil to China despite Obama’s compromise decision to build the pipeline only halfway to Canada, so a joint appearance by the two heads of state could have shed some light on the situation. Instead, the ladies and gentlemen of the press chose to ask about the more anodyne matters of a free trade agreement and a minor squabble over visa requirements.
With Calderon standing right there next to Obama, it was also a perfect opportunity to ask about the Fast and Furious fiasco, a Department of Justice operation that allowed the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug gangs. The botched operation reportedly infuriated the Mexican government when they found out about it long after hundreds of Mexicans had died as a result, yet not one reporter had the temerity to ask either leader about it. A member of the Mexican press did ask about the flow of weapons into Mexico from the United States, giving Calderon and Obama a chance to lament the Second Amendment, but without any mention of Fast and Furious.
The fact that one question prompted such a controversial response that Obama spent days trying to explain it might suggest that the reporters in attendance weren’t entirely deferential, but consider how the question about Obamacare was phrased: “If it were to be ruled unconstitutional, how would you still guarantee health care to the uninsured and those Americans who’ve become insured as a result of the law?” The query, posed by a reporter identified in the transcript as Julianna, as the president is apparently on a first name basis with the White House press corps, was framed as a compliment. The resulting controversy was a result of Obama’s clumsy response, not a hard-hitting question.
– Bud Norman
Politically obsessed readers of a certain age might recall that Mitt Romney’s father lost a chance to become president due to the injudicious use of the word “brainwashing.”
For those too young or too old to remember, George Romney had become a business legend by rescuing the American Motors Corporation from failure, parlayed his fame into the governorship of Michigan, and was successful enough in the job to be considered a leading contender for the presidency in 1968. Romney had come back from a fact-finding mission to Vietnam in 1965 as an outspoken supporter of America’s military efforts there, but had become a critic of the war by 1967, and he explained his change of mind by telling a television reporter that the generals had given him a “brainwashing” during his trip. Republican primary voters decided they didn’t want a candidate whose brain was so easily susceptible to washing, and thus Richard Nixon became president.
The incident was brought to mind by a video from 1995, recently uncovered by the invaluable Brietbrat.com site, which features current Attorney General Eric Holder employing a far more troubling use of the term “brainwash.”
Holder, then a U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, is seen telling the Women’s National Democratic Club that the government should employ the news media, the entertainment, sports and advertising industries, the public schools, and all other available resources to inculcate in the public an attitude that it’s “not cool, not acceptable, that it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore.” Just when the more paranoid listener will be musing that what he describes sounds very much like brainwashing, Holder adds with no apparent embarrassment that “we need to do this every day of the week and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”
There is much to criticize in the speech, including Holder’s recommendation of famously crack-addicted Mayor Marion Berry as a possible star for the public service advertisements as someone who “has credibility with young people,” but his unabashed belief that the government should be in the business of brainwashing its citizens is outrageous.
All the more so because he was urging that the government do it in order to enforce a law that was later declared unconstitutional as a violation of the Second Amendment, but such enthusiastic use of relentless propaganda methods by the government for any reason is frightening. Holder will likely protest that he didn’t mean brainwashing as it is defined in our Random House Dictionary — “a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, esp. through the use of torture, drugs or psychological stress techniques — but the “informational campaign” he laid out precisely meets the secondary definition of “any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, esp. one based on repetition or confusion.”
Alas, similar techniques are consistently used by the presidential administration that Holder serves. From the Hollywood-produced advertising and pop star paeans of the campaign to the blatant attempt to use the National Endowment for the Arts to coerce the “arts community” into shilling for Obamacare and other initiatives, the constant staged events and television appearances, and the Hollywood-produced ads and pop star paeans of the present, something suspiciously akin to brainwashing is constantly at work. There has been widespread speculation that the infamous Fast and Furious Operation was meant to provide more anti-gun for Holder’s Department of Justice, and this video will do little to quell that suspicion.
– Bud Norman