Another Story Having Nothing To Do With Islam

We’re all for peace and love and understanding and all that jazz, but even so, there was something awfully grating about President Barack Obama’s visit to a mosque on Wednesday.
Pretty much everything about it was grating, for that matter. There was the dreary familiarity of the whole presidential-mosque-visit thing, which has been a regular ritual ever since George W. Bush first felt the obligation to pay his respects in the aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that the perpetrators swore-to-Allah had something to the do with Islam, along with the usual rote incantations about how Islam had nothing to do with it. This was all the more grating after so many years when the dreaded anti-Islam backlash has yet to materialize, and when Jews remain the most likely targets of hate crimes and yet the only times the president ever shows up at a synagogue is to insist that despite all appearances he’s a steadfast friend of Israel, but even that wasn’t the worst of it.
There was also the choice of the Islamic Society of Baltimore for the visit, which had been under federal investigation after one of its worshippers was arrested for a terrorist plot, and with ties to both the unabashedly Islamic supremacist Muslim Brotherhood and a Virginia mosque that once featured the sermons of radical jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama’s affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood has been well-known ever since he invited its leaders to the front row for his famous Cairo address about peace and love and understanding, and was confirmed by his efforts to usher them into power in Egypt, and high-level appointees with Muslim Brotherhood ties, and his indulgence of the offshoot Hamas terror gang that is devoted to the destruction of his friends in Israel, but it does seem strange given that the American citizen al-Awlaki was killed by an Obama-ordered drone strike. In any case, it’s an odd venue to give yet another lecture about how self-proclaimed Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
There was also some blather about how mean old right-wing Hollywood has been whipping up anti-Islamic hatred with its depictions of murderous Muslims, even though almost all of the action-adventure flicks have light-skinned and blue-eyed villains, except for such such fact-based flops as “13 Hours,” with its unnecessary depiction of that better-unmentioned Benghazi fiasco that was all the result of an anti-Islam video on “YouTube,” and how television sit-coms should all feature a lovable Muslim-next-door character. We note that the homosexual-next-door character has been a staple of sit-coms for a decade or so now, and eagerly await the first homosexual-Muslim-next-door character on the small screen, as we expect politically-correct “intersectionality” should cause a few heads to explode. We’d settle for any sort of a pop cultural depiction of a Christian-next-door who isn’t bitterly clinging to his guns and religion, but we aren’t holding our breath for a presidential visit to a low church on any Sunday mornings soon.
Most grating of all, though, was when Obama took the opportunity to liken himself to President Thomas Jefferson. It wasn’t Jefferson’s ruthless and successful war against the Islamic pirates who had been seizing American vessels and the Tripolitan potentate who justified it by citing the Koran that Obama had in mind, which would have been obviously immodest, but rather that “Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim, so I was not the first.” He’s apparently referring to Jefferson’s writings on religious liberty, wherein he stressed how radical he was about it that he would even tolerate what was then called Mohammadism, and how some of his foes were indeed not willing to go far, but he didn’t mention that Jefferson never spoke of the Muslim call to prayer as the “most beautiful sound” or invited the Muslim Brotherhood to the front row of his speeches and certainly never regarded small-town American Christian folk as bitter-clingers to God and guns or urged them to get off their high horses and repent for the Crusades.
The president needn’t worry that we’re going to rush out and commit any hate crimes against any group unfairly underrepresented on America’s bigoted sit-coms or Hollywood’s xenophobic yet international-market-oriented action-adventures, and we certainly won’t be ordering any drone strikes, but he should be advised that we’re not the only ones tiring of this nonsense. The president barely rates a mention these days in the news, which is preoccupied with all the alarming tough talk by his would-be Republican successors and the the Democratic race where the self-described socialist and the former Secretary of State with the Muslim Brotherhood-tied confidant who would both rather talk about income inequality and student debt and anything else, so it takes something this grating to get back in the headlines.

— Bud Norman

The Next 362 Days

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

— Bud Norman

The 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

Guns and Tears and Shady Statistics

One hardly knows where to begin grousing about that awful speech President Barack Obama gave about guns Tuesday. There was the usual annoyingly self-referential style, the same old calls for respectful argument and the same old slurs against those disagree with him, typically distorted statistics, yet more executive actions that override duly passed and signed laws, the predictable bad policies billed as “common sense,” the obligatory assurances that he believes in the Second Amendment and the rest of all that constitutional stuff, and he even threw in a couple of tears to make it seems as he cares.
Perhaps the most galling thing about the speech was that Obama chose to give it in the first place. He had a chance to persuade the public to persuade their legislators to pass his favored gun control laws when his fanatically loyal party controlled both chambers of Congress, and then again when the major media were crusading for more gun regulations after the mass shooting at a Connecticut school, and at this point we suspect that most Americans would prefer to hear what their president is doing about the inflamed Middle East or the sputtering economy or the rapidly accumulating national debt or almost anything other than some pointless gun control rules that only the most rule-abiding gun owners will abide.
We say “rules” rather than “laws” because there are already laws that quite specifically define who is a gun dealer and thus has to conduct background checks and obey other existing laws, and Obama’s executive action extends that definition to anyone who wants to sell his brother-in-law an old handgun. The extra-constitutional power grab is all the more offensive because it is unlikely to prevent any criminal or mentally ill person from acquiring a gun, and is more likely to prevent a law-abiding citizen from acquiring a weapon needed for self-defense. By now such rule by presidential fiat is taken for granted, and even some Republicans seem eager to wield such newfound imperial powers, but one can hope that some outrage about it still persists.
How insulting, too, that Obama would shed few a tears over the deaths that his policies won’t prevent. About two-thirds of those 30,000 gun deaths that Obama lamented are suicides, so as long as there are poisons and razor blades and tall buildings and gas ovens and rope and other means of self-inflicted death no amount of gun control will stop those, and we can’t recall when Obama has never spoken about the largely white and middle aged suicide problem. Another phony-baloney statistic that Obama offered was about Connecticut’s 40 percent decrease in gun deaths since it passed laws similar to what he has proposed, which is true enough but best understood in context of the unmentioned fact that the national homicide rate has declined 50 percent in that time while gun ownership has increased as substantially. He also mentioned an increase in Missouri’s homicide rate after loosening its gun laws, but neglected to say anything about the spike in the St. Louis area’s murders since the “Black Lives Matter” movement sent the police there into retreat. Nor did he mention the interesting statistic that his own Justice Department has had 38 percent fewer convictions on existing duly passed and signed gun laws than the gun-crazy Bush administration, and of course he once again didn’t say anything about alarming rate of murders in Chicago, the community he once organized and is now under the imperial control of his former chief of staff.
Don’t worry about slippery slope toward even more draconian gun restrictions, though, because Obama once again went through the “ritual” — his own term — of assuring the American people that he was a former adjunct professor of constitutional law and is sure enough committed to the Second Amendment. He didn’t say “If you like you guns, you can keep your guns,” but it had the same suspicious ring to it. It’s enough to make one cry, even if you’re not the lachrymose type like former House Speaker John Boehner, who was laughed at by the same people who were choked up by Obama’s tears, but we react more in anger than in sorrow.

— Bud Norman

The Climate for Satire

Pity the poor satirists, who are finding it ever harder to come up with a burlesque broad enough to exaggerate the latest news reports.
Readers of a certain age and certain subtle sense of humor will fondly recall the straight-faced surrealism of the great Bob and Ray, who used to pepper their satiric radio show with fanciful advertisements for such fictional companies as the Monongahela Metal Foundry, “casting steel ingots with the housewife in mind,” Einbinder Flypaper, “the brand you’ve gradually grown to trust over three generations,” and The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel, “makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything.” Our favorite was a spot for Cool Canadian Air, “packed fresh every day in the Hudson Bay and shipped to your door,” but apparently even that delightful absurdity has recently been overtaken by reality. According to a report in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, one of the hottest selling items in China right now is a bottle of Canada’s Vitality Air, billed as “100 percent Rocky Mountain air.” Apparently the air pollution in Beijing has become so bad that consumers there are willing to shell out 400 yuan, which is about 46 bucks or 42 pounds according to The Daily Mail, just to suck in the promised 150 or so breaths of pure “Lake Louise air” found in each soda-sized container.
Even such Gaia-hating and pro-industrialists sorts as ourselves have to admit that’s a sorry state of affairs, although we will gloat a bit that capitalism can hardly be blamed for it, and that so far only the most Bob and Ray sort of absurdist entrepreneurship seems to be offering any solution, so we can only hope that the big global warming alarmism confab in Paris will set things right. They’ve reportedly come up with something, although the Obama administration is calling it an “agreement” rather than a “treaty,” which would require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, where it would probably fare even worse than that 95-0 rejection of the Kyoto “Accord” that happened back when Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and Paul Wellstone and most of the current liberal Democrats were in office, and so far as we can tell China has only agreed to start to clamping down on air pollution when the price of Cool Canadian Air becomes prohibitive, and India still seems intent on the same sort of coal-fired electrification of its rural villages that the Franklin Roosevelt administration once embarked on, so we’re not hopeful. Neither are we worried that both nature and human nature won’t revert to historic norms soon, which will admittedly lead to some inevitable cataclysm or another, although we hope it will occur sometime after our own expiration date, but we have to admit we can’t come up with a better joke than this unintentional comedy of climate change hysteria.
There’s nothing in this “agreement” or “plan” or “framework” or “accord” or anything else you might want to call it other than a “treaty” that forces China stop polluting its air before 150 or so breaths of Cool Canadian Air is worth 400 yuan, there’s nothing that will persuade India to leave its rural villages in the off-line dark, and since you dare not call it a “treaty” there’s nothing that will oblige a more sensible President of the United States to screw up the American economy to atone for communist China’s sins. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that “public shaming” will be the enforcement mechanism, but he’s not at all ashamed to have five lavish and energy-consuming houses and a motorcade of limousines and a private jet and a fancy yacht that doesn’t run all the time on wind power, and we don’t expect that China and India and all those other countries aspiring to American levels of extravagance will be any more shamed.
Then there’s the rest of the news, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the front-runners for the next presidency and all sorts of similarly unsavory characters are waiting in the wings in the rest of the world and some sort of religious terrorism that cannot be named keeps popping up everywhere. It’s all far beyond our limited powers of satire, but we thank you nonetheless for dropping by The Central Standard Times, “a view from the middle of America.”

— Bud Norman

Circular Logic in an Oval Office

President Barack Obama’s Oval Office address on Sunday wasn’t so awful as we had feared, and probably won’t prove so awful as the last one, in which he proudly announced the full withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but that’s not saying much. Although we couldn’t bring ourselves to watch it, and therefore missed out on the reportedly unsettling and thus far unexplained sight of him standing before his desk rather than seated at the usual president position behind it, our reading of the transcript was not reassuring.
The speech begins by noting the ethnic diversity of the victims of Wednesday’s massacre in San Bernardino, California, as if that somehow makes it worse than a more homogenous slaughter, but at least it was quickly followed with a frank admission that what happened was an act of terrorism. By now the facts of the matter are so well-established and widely-reported that even Obama’s stubborn instincts cannot deny them, but we’ll credit him for at long last acknowledging the well-established and widely-reported fact that the long-ago massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, was also an act of terrorism. All of our ex-alcoholic pals tell us that the first step toward recovery is admitting there is a problem, so we are heartened to see that after seven years in office the president has taken a nudge in that direction. He even acknowledged that the previously unspecific sort of terrorism had something to do with “a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the west.”

We’re assured that for the past seven years the president has “confronted this threat each morning in my intelligence briefing,” but we can’t help recalling the Government Accountability Office’s reports that the president had been skipping 58 percent of those briefings, or the more recent reports that he only listens to information regarding a limited number of groups that he considers a terror threat, so we’re not convinced. The president also noted that “our success won’t depend on tough talk,” so neither were were convinced by the tougher than usual talk that followed.
There was a promise that “our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary,” but given the president’s previous scoffing about military solutions, and his continued insistence that air strikes and special forces will suffice, again we are not confident. There was also a promise to continue to provide training and assistance to “tens of thousands” of supposedly moderate Syrian rebels, but given the junk we’ve been providing our supposedly moderate friends in Ukraine, and the less-than-ten fighters we’ve actually had on the ground recently, that also seems a bad bet.
A third promise made was that America will step up its offensive against the Islamic State, which the president consistently refers to by the unusual acronym ISIL for fear of mentioning that first word, and he notes that our cooperation with Turkey and France has lately increased, and although he doesn’t mention Russia, which has also lately suffered from Islamic State’s now-global terror network, we can believe that there’s now sufficient international political pressure for Obama to keep that promise. Whether he knows how to do it without strengthening the hands of Turkey and Russia and Iran and other players in the region remains to be seen, and past history suggests otherwise, but at least its a somewhat hopeful development.
The fourth promise was that “with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process — and timeline — to pursue ceasefires and a political solution to the Syrian civil war.” This, of course, inspires no confidence at all. There was some hopeful talk about “reviewing” the procedures that waived in one of the San Bernardino killers on a passport from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or some other unestablished Middle Eastern problem country, but no mention of whether the many thousands of refugees from similarly problematic countries will also be subjected to these improved methods.
Of course there was some talk about what do back here in the homeland, and that was the least inspiring portion of the speech. There was the predictable call to deny gun sales to anyone on the “no-fly list,” even though the “no-fly list” is such a ridiculous compilation of random names that now includes numerous employees of the Homeland Security Department and once included Sen. Ted Kennedy and could easily include you if you’re annoyed office mate decides to make an anonymous call and was until recent an outrage to the leftward side of civil libertarian movement, but at least there weren’t any threats of an executive action to repeal the Second Amendment. There was a call to make it harder to purchase the sort of “assault weapons” that were used in the attack, which aren’t really assault weapons and are currently owned by millions of law-abiding Americans who might wind up using them against the next attackers, but it did seem rather perfunctory.
Of course there was the obligatory scolding about how “it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” It was all rather mild compared to his Attorney General’s previous speech threatening to prosecute any remarks about Islam that “edge toward violence,” and to literally make a federal case out of any playground comments that might be construed as anti-Islamic bullying, but it still suggested a certain tolerance of even the most perverted interpretations of Islam. The obligatory call for religious tolerance omitted any condemnation of anti-Jewish bigotry, even though Jews are the most frequent victims of religious hate crimes in America, and there was no condemnation of the New York Daily News’ sneering dismissal of the thoughts and prayers of Republicans or its editorial claiming that one of the San Bernardino victims was no better than his killer because of his proud statements on behalf of Jewish heritage and Christian beliefs, and we would have preferred an acknowledgment of how very tolerant America has been over the past two decades of Islamist terrorism rather than another unnecessary scolding.
The speech ended with the president saying “may God bless the United States of America,” and although his more secular admirers were probably irked by it at least we took some comfort in that.

— Bud Norman

Beyond Winning and American Leadership

We have witnessed some pretty awful presidential press conferences in our time, but President Barack Obama’s performance in Turkey on Monday surpasses them all. There was nothing so memorably pithy as “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but it was packed with more pure nonsense and un-presidential prickliness than anything we can recall.

The Cable News Network reached into its thesaurus to describe the president as “unyielding” in the headline, but by the second paragraph was forced to settle for “testy,” and even such polite press as Politico.com described him responding to reporters questions with “mild irritation.” We’d have gone with “annoyed,” “arrogant,” “dismissive,” “snarky,” “snarling,” and “downright un-presidential,” but that would only be a warm-up for all for the pure nonsense that he spouted. Little wonder that the president was “defensive,” as other press outlets put it, as the recent victories of the Islamic State in Paris and Beirut and over the skies of Egypt and across an expanding caliphate in the Middle East, as well as his venue in recently-bombed and refugee-swarmed Turkey, forced him to defend his foreign policy in general and his dealings with the Islamic State in particular. Pure nonsense is necessary to defend such a record, and some un-presidential prickliness is inevitable.

Obama had once scoffed at the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and even after it seizure of an area larger than most European countries and its downing of a Russian jetliner over of Egypt and successful bombings against its Shiite enemies in Lebanon and another deadly attack in Turkey, and just hours before it launched a coordinate attack on six sites in Paris he boasted they were “contained,” so even the most cooperative press had to ask if he might have underestimated the enemy. The president explained that the expansion their Middle Eastern caliphate had not lately increased, a claim that even one of the most reliably supportive Democratic senators disputes, and which ignores its recent incursions into Lebanon and Turkey and the very heart of France, and we think even the most sympathetic observer would note some mild irritation on the president’s part.
Obama was more upbeat as he announced that “What is different this time” is that all the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war now “agree on a process that is needed to end this war, and so while we are very clear-eyed that this will be a very, very difficult road still ahead, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.” This is hardly Churchillian in its rhetorical spelndor, even without the accompanying prickliness, and only reminds how very, very difficult that road to surrender to Iran over its nuclear ambitions proved to be, and it was immediately undercut by his comments on how relentless the United States will be on the military front. “And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terroristic attack from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist attack that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
This is a devastating rebuttal of whatever straw men Obama imagines are advocating 50,000 troops in Syria, but it raises unsettling and unasked questions about what Obama would do in the case of a terrorist attack from Yemen or the former Libya that he bombed into chaos or North Africa or Southeast Asia or some other likely place of origin, and it has little to with the debate that’s actually occurring. Not only in the Republican nomination race but even in the most respectable foreign policy think tanks there is a growing consensus that some change of course is necessary, and the president responded to such contrary opinions by saying that “if people want to pop off and have opinions about what they think would do, have a specific plan. If they think somehow that their advisors are better than my joint chiefs of staff or my generals on the ground, I would like to meet them. I would like to have that debate.” Reports indicate that those generals on the ground are being ignored, and the joints chiefs of staff at this point are more considered concerned with gender equity and a welcoming atmosphere for non-traditional recruits, and the advice Obama has been following has turned out as it has, so the president is left with prickliness.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect the people in the region who are getting killed to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that,” the president, sounding rather testy. The statement implies than “winning” and “American leaders” are scare quote-worthy slogans that have no relationship to what will protect America and the people in the regions we’re doing some of the killing and for allies as well as “people like France,” and if it were only pithier it would live in presidential press conference infamy with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The historical consequences of such thinking, though, are likely to be far worse.
There was the familiar talk about not being at war with Islam, which Obama noted that even George W. Bush had said, and some worries that you can’t deal with suicide bombers, which isn’t even Rooseveltian, given that FDR had the Navy stand up against kamikaze pilots, and similar prickliness, but he topped it all with his insistence that America grant asylum to at least 100,000 “refugees” from the Syrian civil war, and his support for Europe taking in millions more. Those “refugees” include a suspiciously high number of fighting-age males, many have proved not be from Syria at all, at least one was involved in the horrific attacks on France, and despite his administration’s earnest assurances that they’ll all be carefully checked out there’s really no way of knowing, given the lack of Syrian record-keeping and current poor relations with the Syrian government, who might be a bad guy among the newfound wards of the state. This is all part of that humanitarian front, apparently, and the president insists it would be racist and xenophobic and downright un-American to question the wisdom of relocating the Middle East’s apparently unmanageable pathologies into America and the rest of the west, and that his more enlightened attitudes will eventually win the heart of the Muslim world.
We expect that most of the western world, even the bluest portions of the formerly stiff-spined America, will expect a less prickly and more robust response to the latest outrages. The Islamic State seems poised on further outrages yet, and far more robust responses will be required.

— Bud Norman

Until the Next Paris

Every time Islamic terrorism strikes against the west, as it does all too often, we somehow expect that at long last the reaction will be different. Instead of the obligatory worries about the anti-Muslim backlash that never occurs, or the rote assurances that Islam is a Religion of Peace, or the reflexive moral relativism that seeks to excuse cold-blooded murder as no worse than western civilization, we hold out faint hope that this time there will only be righteous outrage and a collective resolve that such barbarity will not be tolerated. The past weekend’s meticulously planned attacks on at least six locations in Paris, which killed more than 120 innocents and wounded hundreds more, sadly seems to have brought us only one more outrage closer to that surely inevitable day.
All of the usual hand-wringing about potential rather than actual victims of terrorism and pretzel-logic apologetics and ahistorical litanies of the west’s alleged past sins have predictably followed the carnage, and much of the west’s political leadership immediately demonstrated it usual cowardice. There were the same old statements of sympathy and support from the west’s capitals, of course, but most were couched in the same old language that seeks to avoid mentioning the ideology that has motivated the latest carnage. Almost nowhere in the halls of western government, except in the currently socialist and instinctively pacifist but momentarily enraged capital of Paris, is there any frank acknowledgment that a sufficient portion of the Islamic world has declared war against the west and that the west has every right and a moral obligation to protect its citizens, their freedoms, and their objectively superior culture.
President Barack Obama’s official statement was sympathetic and supportive and quite sure that “Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” but he was careful to not make any mention of who might have committed such a crime against the city or what might have motivated them. In a televised debate among the Democrats hoping to succeed, which was hastily changed to deal with the breaking news rather than the income inequality and Republican “war on women” and other topics they would have rather dealt with, none of the candidates were willing to accept the notion of Islamic terrorism even with the modifier of “radical” attached. Both the current occupant of the White House and each of his would-be successors maintained their welcoming stances regarding the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern of male and fighting-age “refugees” seeking asylum in America, none were willing to question the wisdom of the past seven years of empathetic outreach and brazen appeasement to the Islamists, and all maintained their calls for cuts in defense spending and increases in immigration from the Muslim world.
Even the journalists posing the questions during that dull debate seemed eager to change the subject, and we don’t wonder why. Just hours before the Islamic State launched its deadly attack on Paris Obama had gloated to the American Broadcast Company the terror gang was “contained,” echoing his earlier characterization of the growing caliphate as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, even though the same group of killers had recently downed a Russian airliner and bombed its Hezbollah rivals in Beirut and still controlled a large and expanding chunk of what was formerly Iraq and Syria, and the related messes in Libya and Turkey and Jordan and the tidal wave of refugees spilling into Europe and America made the breaking news all the more inconvenient for the administration. The unsurprising revelation that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks included some newly-welcomed “refugees” raised questions that even such reliably far-left outlets as the United Kingdom’s Guardian had to ask, and no one on the welcoming committees anywhere has any plausible answer. Some reliably far-left pundits even in the United States are noticing that the refugees are flowing out of areas once pacified by more confident western governments, but long since abandoned for ostensibly progressive reasons, and a Democratic field that includes the Secretary of State who bombed Libya and pulled out of Iraq and “reset” relations with a Russia that is suddenly in the middle of everything, a self-described socialist who immediately attempts to change the subject back to income inequality and Wall Street’s wickedness, and a former governor who has nothing to say except to chime that he also wants a very multi-national and nuanced response was few good answers.
There are other parties with other views to be found almost everywhere, that being one of the reasons that western civilization is objectively superior to others, so there’s still that faint hope that the proper outrage and resolute response can still be mustered. Already there’s much hand-wringing in the respectable press about the possibility of right-wing parties gaining a political advantage from the attack. In America “right-wing” means the Republicans, whose supine response to the last seven years of retreat should placate even the most paranoid left-winger, even if all the party’s candidates have been at least somewhat tougher in response to the Paris events than their Democratic counterparts, but in Europe that sometimes means the more unsavory nationalist and racialist and authoritarian notion of “right-wing.” So far as we can tell the United Kingdom Independence Party and Geert Wilders’ party in Holland and many of the other party’s resistant to unrestrained immigration are reasonable advocates of national sovereignty and the perpetuation of their cultures, but in some cases such as France’s National Front and several of Germany’s most forthright opponents to their country’s insane immigration the likely beneficiaries do have worrisome roots in the continent’s Fascist and Nazi past. When widely-held common sense opinions are ruled by the elites as beyond the bounds of respectable opinion, the most disreputable sorts of parties are bound to benefit, and if the elites here had the same power to define such boundaries as they do in Europe we’d surely be in the same position. Even here the candidate most likely to benefit from the public’s outrage is Donald Trump, so America might not be so well-positioned as we had once thought.
Here and throughout the rest of the west the anti-immigration forces are gaining strength, at least, along with any voices that dare to challenge the elite opinion that the occasional downed airline or shot-up concert hall or bombed marathon or act of “workplace violence” that claims 13 lives on an American military base are just the price to be paid for maintaining the western elite’s sense of moral superiority. We hope that this yields leaders willing to defend the western values of tolerance, free speech, and religious pluralism, and even the Judeo-Christian traditions that once led us to the modern world, and that we won’t have to choose between those who would sacrifice that for security and those who would throw it all away for the sake of some self-loathing suicide impulse. That significant portion of the Muslim world intent on waging war against the west is clearly determined, and sooner or later they’ll backlash they’re begging for.

— Bud Norman

The Republican Race Just Got Angrier and Better

The average Republican primary voter’s seething anger toward the party’s congressional leadership has been the driving force in the party’s presidential race thus far, to the point it’s driven the electorate so stark raving mad that until recently itDonald Trump has been pushed to the top of the polls, and this looming budget deal that the leadership has concocted with President Barack Obama is not going to calm any conservative’s temper.
The deal is just plain awful in every way. It effectively ends the “sequestration” budget cuts that lowered the government’s share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product from 25 to 20 percent and reduced the annual budget deficits back to the level of the Bush administration, which admittedly doesn’t seem like much, and it also caused cuts in defense spending that are painful to conservative sensibilities, but it was arguably the best the leadership could get and inarguably the most that the leadership could brag about. This is in exchange for promises of budget cuts in 2025, which are unlikely to be worth as much as the magic beans that the Democrats had also offered, and basically represents a complete and utter capitulation to Obama and his free-spending ways. There’s nothing in the deal that addresses Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business or the Environmental Protection Agency’s rapaciousness or any other other conservative budget complaints, it goes the wrong way on entitlement reform, and it outlasts the Obama administration and thus spares him any more fights over how he spends the public’s money.
As awful as it is as policy, it’s even worse as politics. Aside from infuriating their own average primary voter, and in a futile attempt to lure the sort of uninformed general election voter who is far more likely to be lured by whatever free and shiny object the Democrats are offering, the Republican party’s official leadership are weakening their position with the solid majority of respondents to almost every poll we’ve ever seen who think the government should spend less and do less. The official Republican leadership’s spin on it seems to be that Boehner shrewdly sacrificed his standing with his party’s vast membership, such as it was, to ensure that incoming Speaker John Ryan can begin his more steadfastly conservative reign untainted by the sins his predecessor had so selflessly taken upon himself. This is all going to going down with Ryan’s gavel, though, and he’s not going to get any credit for it from the more establishmentarian organs of the mainstream press, who are already gearing up to portray him throughout the presidential campaign as the right-wing crazy that he used to be back in the good old days of ’12 when he was chosen as the party’s running mate to placate a conservative base weary of the establishment nominee Mitt Romney. Since then Ryan’s gone wobbly on illegal immigration and government shutdown brinksmanship and other causes dear to conservatives’ hearts, however, and by now no knowledgable observer expects a reign more steadfastly conservative than Boehner’s. Thus we have an emboldened left, a dispirited right, and an uninformed middle that will be reassured by the 3l-second network news snippets in between pop songs that the Republicans are still crazily right-wing and the Democrats are still winning.
The average Republican primary voter gets his news in three-hour chunks from talk radio and in page after pixelled page of reliable conservative news sources on the internet and sometimes even on a printed page, and his response to all of this will naturally affect the presidential race. Our guess is that the already flourishing anti-establishment candidates who are completely untainted by any previous elective office will continue to do well, and it will be interesting to see if blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump or soft-spoken physician Ben Carson gets the best of it, or if the formidable but fading high executive Carly Fiorina can get back in the mix. As the best-selling author of “The Art of Deal,” with a hard-to-deny reputation as a ruthless dealmaker, Trump should gain some advantage, although we’re still convinced what kind of a deal the relatively recent Republican and only occasionally conservative fellow consider would consider good. Among the establishment politicians, both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are presented with an excellent opportunity, and it will be interesting to see which one makes the most of it. Given the understandably seething anger of the average Republican primary voter, we expect they’ll try to out-do one another in their willingness to gum up the works. If we were betting men, and if he we had any money to bet, we’d go with Cruz.
Both men came into office by besting the “establishment” candidates in their states, with Rubio the most celebrated because he had upset the hated Rockefeller Republican and soon-to-be Democrat Charlie Crist in his primary, and in a swing state at that, but since then Cruz has proved the more reckless provocateur. His filibustering attempts on previous budget showdowns were widely blamed for the inevitable frenzy of news stories about National Parks closing and old folks dying while their Social Security checks went undelivered and Earth spinning out of its orbit that inevitably followed, as well as the electoral disasters that also didn’t happen, so of course the average Republican primary voter, if not the uninformed voter hearing those 30-second news snippets, has looked kindly upon him ever since. As the most notoriously anti-establishment of the elected officials, he’s well positioned to lead a charge here, and he strikes as the sort who seize it.
Rubio might surprise us, though. We still fondly recall the handsome young fellow who vanquished Crist, and all the rousing speeches about capitalism and constitutional guarantees of liberty and all that full-throated Cuban anti-communism, and we can’t help thinking he’d make a good pick against whatever crazy lefty the Democrats might come up with. Although the 30-second news snippets will continue to characterize him as a right-wing crazy he still needs to shore up that credential with we actual right-wing crazies, so a good old-fashioned Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster would do him even more good. It would also remind the public that he’s a Senator doing his job, which further refutes a minor controversy about all the Senate votes he’s been missing lately while out on the campaign trail, and ensures his name showing up in a lot of headlines that even the most uninformed voters are likely to spot.
Former Florida governor and Bush family scion “Jeb!” Bush tried to exploit the mixed votes in this weeks presidential debate, and the general consensus of pundit opinion is that Rubio responded nicely by contrasting his record with presidential candidates ranging from Sen. John McCain to Sen. Barack Obama, and that Bush’s already faltering campaign took another hit. We can’t see how the oh-so-establishment candidate from the oh-so-establishment family ever thought he stood a chance, and we can’t see how he’ll get one out of a budget deal that confirms every seething angry anti-establishment suspicion of the average Republican voter. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also had a good night slapping around the media in the last debate, but he has a certain East Coast attitude about guns and a shoddy record on Muslim jurists and other issues dear to the hearts of more heartland conservatives, as well as the audio of him of praising Obama’s Hurricane Sandy efforts and photos of them hugging together on the New Jersey shore like the end of some of Will Smith-Josh Rogan “bromance,” so he also never stood a chance and doesn’t stand to gain one from this awful budget deal.
Whichever candidate winds up winning the nomination on the seething angriness of the seething angriness of the average Republican primary voter, we don’t worry that all the pandering will hurt their chances in a general election against what left-wing crazy the Democrats put up. For all the effort packed into those 30-second spots to make the Republicans look extreme, the Democrats are staking out wildly unpopular positions on guns, illegal immigration, law enforcement, abortion, and even on the economic issues that take more than 30 seconds to explain. If Rubio or Cruz have to explain their brinksmanship on a budget showdown to a general electorate, they can say that they did it so that the government would have to spend less and do less, which always polls well, especially after the National Parks are re-opened and the old folks never did miss a Social Security check and Earth stays in its orbit. Given the mood of the average American voter, who by now regards both the Democrats and Republicans with a seething angry suspicion, the candidate that is mostly convincingly running against both parties stands to do well.

— Bud Norman

E-Mails, “Emails,” and Alternate Realities

According to no less an authoritative source than The New York Times, “Obama’s Comments About Clinton’s Emails Rankle Some in the F.B.I.” We don’t hear that from any more authoritative source, however, so we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that’s there’s a lot more to it than what the once-venerable paper would now consider “All the news that’s fit to print.”
There’s no doubt that President Barack Obama did indeed go on television’s “60 Minutes” program and say that former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured e-mail server didn’t pose a threat to national security, even as he acknowledged that it was a mistake, and we won’t quibble with the article’s characterization that he “played down the matter.” Nor do we doubt that The New York Times’ multiple reporters accurately quoted or paraphrased the unnamed current Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and one named former law enforcement agent who claim to be infuriated by the president’s prejudgment of a matter they are still diligently investigating. We don’t doubt that all the names and titles and other facts that are explicitly stated have been assiduously checked by what’s left of the Gray Lady’s copy desk, even if they are now so trendy they’re no longer hyphenating “e-mails,” but what’s not stated yet clearly implied still smells fishy.
The article includes some unexpectedly interesting background material, including past administration crackdowns on federal officials’ handling of sensitive material, and past instances of the administration resisting prosecutions of other more politically necessary officials, to the extent that a typical New York Times reader might find it shockingly critical of the administration. Even under the cloak of anonymity those unnamed FBI and other law enforcement officials will likely seem convincingly outraged to the average Times reader, and the average New York Times reader might even conclude that the president is protecting a fellow Democrat from due treatment under the law. The average New York Times reader would be delighted to hear that, though, so we can’t credit the paper with any institutional courage, and we find it interesting that they’re still running articles with Clinton and “emails” in the same headline.
We don’t have even any unnamed sources in the FBI, but we do have a theory based on the reports of The New York Times and the rest of the old-fashioned that this is all bunk. Based on pretty much everything we’ve seen, heard, and read during the past seven years we have concluded that Obama is convinced he really is the messiah he proclaimed himself to be during the ’08 election, that he wants his transformative reign continued through the ’16 and ’20 elections, and that Hillary Clinton is not his chosen successor. A similar empiricism has convinced us that the F.B.I. is no longer the doggedly independent institution of Jimmy Stewart and Efram Zimbalist Jr., and that it now contains more than a few agents willing to anonymously feign outrage at administration criticism of an investigation that has long been given administration blessing. Even The New York times concedes that the administration “walked back” its criticism in short order, and that the downplaying included an admission Clinton had made a mistake, and future Times stories will no doubt include further unnamed high administration officials leaking further disclosures about those “emails,” but that the administration can point to an unexpectedly critical New York Times story that seems to have its hands of any blame.
Given the lack of attention paid by the F.B.I. to other administration scandals, its sudden doggedness about Clinton’s “emails,” and all the resulting drip, drip, drip of stories quoting an ongoing investigations and plenty of highly placed yet unnamed administration officials, we can see why Obama might want to portray him as downplaying the matter. Given our experience of The New York Times, we can believe it would happily cooperate. We recently ran into a friend of ours who is a political Democrat tonight and he thought our theory that ridiculous, but he was also convinced that Clinton is the inevitable nominee and that only the inevitable Jeb Bush nomination could stop her.

— Bud Norman

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