The Worst Spy Movie Ever

The espionage genre isn’t what it used to be back in the good old Cold War days. Back then there was a clear-cut good guy versus bad guy backdrop to a spy versus spy tale, no matter how morally ambiguous an Ian Fleming or John le Carre might render their cloak-and-dagger heroes, but these days it’s hard to tell who to root for. This story about Israel’s alleged spying on the negotiations between the United States and its European partners with the Iranian government, for instance, will never make the movies.
There’s no doubt that the Israelis did somehow discover information about the negotiations that President Barack Obama would have preferred they did not know, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that would get an American audience’s blood rushing. It’s all just a sub-plot of a bigger story that the Hollywood moguls won’t want to touch, as well, At this point we have no reason to believe there was even any spying at all, at least not of the sort of that involves the planting of electronic surveillance devices or the taking of pictures with tiny cameras slipped into the heel of a shoe or a comely seductress luring a diplomat to his doom or any of that cinematic sort of spy craft. The Israelis freely admit to having obtained all the information they could gather about America’s negotiations with a country that has vowed to drop nuclear bombs and them and annihilate their entire population, which seems a reasonable thing to do, but insists it was all a dreary matter of diplomatic contacts and calling in favors from well-placed sources and reading the same papers where Obama seems to get all his news, and this seems plausible enough. We’d like to think the diplomatic channels would put Israel in touch with some highly-placed American and European sources who would still prefer that Iran not annihilate the Jewish state and are willing to share information about any developments that might make that unhappy event more likely, and given the taut security of the Obama administration the eaves-dropping microphones and shoe cameras and comely seductresses hardly seems necessary.
To further muddle the plot, the Israelis didn’t pass the information along to some cat-stroking arch-villain in a South Pacific volcano island fortress but rather to the United States Congress and the American people. Even the Wall Street Journal article that broke this story, and with all the breathless fervor of a screenplay treatment being pitched to a Hollywood producer, admits that “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.” It’s not clear from the story how The Wall Street Journal defines “espionage,” and whether its quoting of “current and former officials” would also meet that definition, but in any case the officials’ admission would introduce another plot-twist that would make that Hollywood producer wince. The good guy is supposed to be Obama, at least if you want to sell this script to Hollywood, and it’s likely to be a little confusing when he’s the one who’s withholding information not only from Congress, a stock villain, but also the American people. Even the foreign audiences, a vital market, might find that baffling.
Perhaps the plot can proceed that our heroic president is shrewdly negotiating a brilliant deal despite the efforts of hard-liners in both Iran and among those villainous Republicans and Israelis who so ardently desire an Iranian bomb, but if it will take some expensive computer-generated images to explain why the Republicans or Israelis would want that and some rather fanciful screenwriters to bring it to a happy ending. The big hole in the plot is why the heroic president with the masterful plan won’t reveal it to the American public until it has been signed, sealed, and delivered without the approval of the people and their elected congressional representatives. Those press reports that the deal will allow Iran to continue its nuclear-enriching centrifuges and join the nuclear club in ten years seem all the more convincing, the Iranian’s long history of duplicity in international affairs makes it hard to believe that even such generosity won’t be abused, and the most likely ending would be derivative of “Dr. Strangelove.”
There was never a sequel to “Dr. Strangelove,” as you’ll recall, and this plot is an even bigger downer.

– Bud Norman

The Right to Not Vote

Among our many acquaintances are people who habitually do not vote. They’re lovely people, for the most part, but they’re blissfully ignorant of politics and prefer not to participate. We believe they’re entitled to this perfectly reasonable and probably mentally healthy practice, and we don’t worry that the democratic process suffers from their absence, so we were alarmed to hear President Barack Obama propose that voting should be mandatory.
It’s not an official proposal, at least not yet, but the president did ponder the possibility out loud during a “town hall style event” in Cleveland. He noted that others countries have made voting mandatory, and mused that “It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything.” Not only is the president floating a stupid idea, he’s offering stupid reasons.
Aside from idiocy of the argument that if other countries are jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge we ought to be doing it as well, and the cold chills that run down our spine whenever the president speaks of fundamental transformations, that talk about money is poor hooey. The president outspent his opponents in the past two presidential elections, his party routinely outspends the opposition in all but the most hopelessly gerrymandered races, and he can’t possibly believe that the Koch Brothers and other well-heeled arch-villains of the nefarious right are the reasons he’s putting up with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. Money more easily explains why the president is in a position to be making end-runs around Congress and its constitutional authority, as his well-financed campaigns were able to buy the attention of those uninformed voters who were easily swayed by slick television commercials touting his record as a tough-on-terrorism defense hawk and accusing his opponent of killing an employee’s wife and generally spouting the sort of transparent lies that the more politically attuned are likely to recognize as balderdash. Mandatory voting would drive those gullible sorts to the polls at less cost to the Democratic party, which more likely explains the president’s enthusiasm for the policy, but we can understand his reluctance to say so.
Once upon a time the people who stayed out of politics would have likely voted against the party that wanted to impose ever more politics on their lives, and back then the Democrats would have been appalled by the idea of mandatory voting, but these days the party offering the most goodies and the most celebrity endorsements would likely benefit if everybody were forced to vote. Republicans will naturally resist the idea, therefore, but not just for pragmatic reasons. A party of individual rights and limited government should resist mandatory voting on principle, and allow the lovelier people among the uniformed to continue their blissful ignorance of what’s going on and perhaps even be unaffected by it.

– Bud Norman

An Israeli Election and the American Consequences

Israeli politics seem to us a confounding mix of those convoluted European parliamentary systems and the even more arcane points of Talmudic mysticism, and as we write this there is still a chance that the results of Tuesday’s elections in that far-away country might yet come down to hanging chads and butterfly ballots in Palm Beach, but it does appear from the latest press reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won another term. This strikes us as good news for Israel, at least from our faraway vantage point, as well as a happy development in our own domestic politics.
Like most American conservatives, we have been puzzled that Netanyahu was ever in danger of not winning re-election. He’s long been the world’s most forthright and effective opponent of Islamic terrorism, after all, and the notion of his countrymen failing to recognize such leadership seemed as inexplicable as the British rejecting Prime Minister Winston Churchill after the Second World War. All politics truly is local, though, and the Israelis have been susceptible to fanciful leftist economic schemes since the country’s kibbutz days, and Netanyahu has already been in power for more ten years and even the most admirable politicians everywhere eventually become wearisome to a public, so some drama should have been expected. The results don’t necessarily vindicate Netanyahu’s domestic economic economic policies, according to the general tenor of the world press, and they don’t necessarily constitute a referendum on national security policy, as even the most crazily liberal Israelis are by now realistically hawkish, but the party of the Arab minority that isn’t committed to the country’s survival might have involved in a coalition to unseat Netanyahu, and there is reason to believe that Israel’s desire for continued existence had something to do with it.
It’s so hard to say how much Netanyahu’s recent well-publicized spat with American President Barack Obama had to do with it, but we’d like to think it played at least a small part. Netanyahu accepted an invitation from the Republican party to address Congress recently, the president huffily declined a meeting for the stated reason that he didn’t want to interfere in another nation’s elections, a slew of unnamed White House sources made it clear that the president clearly intended to influence the the Israel elections against Netanyahu, Netanyahu went ahead and gave a speech decrying the president’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, and it seems to have worked out well for him. If Netanyahu had lost the president’s apologists would have gloated about it, so American conservatives are entitled some to gloating about the victory. Better yet, Netanyahu’s victory might even help persuade a crucial number of Democrats to join a unified Republican in overriding a presidential veto of an impending bill that will impose economic sanctions on Iran and wind up scuttling the president’s disastrous negotiations. At the very least, Netanyahu’s victory deprives the president of an argument that his appeasement policies are acceptable to even Israel.
The very latest press reports from Israel indicate that the election wasn’t even very close, and we say shalom to Israel and God bless America.

– Bud Norman

Scary Monsters of the Left’s Imagination

Not content with shoving grandmothers off of cliffs, stranding polar bears on ice floes, and waging war on women, the Republicans are now making three-year-old girls cry. That’s the word on the left side of the internet, at least, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s frank assessment of America’s recent foreign policy frightened a young listener.
The incident occurred during a pre-presidential campaign speech in New Hampshire, where Cruz told the small crowd that because of “the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind” the “whole world is on fire.” This news proved so alarming to a little girl on the front row that she demanded confirmation that the world was on fire, and when Cruz reiterated that it was she reportedly began crying. Cruz immediately tried to reassure the girl that “Your mommy is here and everyone is here to make sure that the world you grow up is even better,” but too late to escape the protective wrath of the liberal punditry. A site called Raw Story headlined its story “Ted Cruz scares the hell out of a terrified little girl,” and describes the Senator “shouting” his speech. New York Magazine went with “Ted Cruz’s Campaign Strategy: Scare Little Kids,” and imagines the girl, “Forced to sit scarily close to the spittle-spewing angry monster posing as a junior Senator from Texas,” wondering “Mommy, why is that mean man yelling at me?” At the Daily Kos web site, the headline was “Cruz terrifies a small child, his ideas should terrify us all,” and the story was mostly about Cruz advocating such “crazy” policies as making education a local and state rather than federal responsibility.
Most of the sites at least provide video footage of the event, which allows the reader to draw his conclusions about whether Cruz was shouting or spewing spittle or yelling at a little girl, and whether the little girl was so traumatized as the reports would suggest. Our viewing of the video reveals that Cruz was speaking at a normal volume, no spittle was spewed, his interaction with the little girl was not at all threatening, and that she seemed more flummoxed by the metaphorical language than terrified by a monster. The girl’s mother has been telling anyone who will listen that no lasting damage was done, and that her daughter left with the hopeful impression that “Cruz is the man who puts the fires out,” but the left dismisses her testimony on the theory that anyone who would take a child to a Cruz speech is obviously an unfit parent, so we will leave the reader to his own judgment.
We suspect, however, that Cruz’s critics would have been offended by his criticism of President Barack Obama no matter how quietly or literally or dryly it was expressed. Such lese majeste is frightening to liberals, and they seem to be projecting their own fears on to that little girl. We can’t recall these liberals tsk-tsking when former Vice President Al Gore was bellowing that George W. Bush had betrayed his country, or former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was howling his famous campaign trail scream, or presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was shrieking that she had a right to debate and disagree with any presidential administration, and we assume that youngsters were in attendance on each of those far louder and more spittle-spewed occasions. Nor do liberals seem to mind frightening the young folks with tales of grandmothers being thrown off cliffs and polar bears stranded on ice floes or Republican wars on women that will force them into back alley abortionists.
Cruz’s rhetoric was restrained by comparison, and we dare say it even understated the international mess that has resulted from Obama’s foreign policy. Had he taken the time to list all the problems, from Iran’s imminent nuclear bomb to Russia’s revanchist romp across eastern Europe to the military build-up China is financing with America’s debt service payments, that poor little girl truly would have suffered a lifetime of nightmares. We’re old enough to recognize “the world is on fire” as a figure of speech, and can even recall the Carter years, and it’s not Cruz that we’re afraid of.

– Bud Norman

If Only Obama Knew

Will Rogers used to preface his humorous observations on the political scene by stating that “All I know is what I read in the papers,” which always got a big laugh back in the Great Depression days, and it’s still a good line for a folksy humorist. President Barack Obama is fond of the same disclaimer, however, but it doesn’t suit his job as well.
The latest development that the president only became aware of by reading the morning papers was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail account. The practice posed a security risk, kept records from public scrutiny, and seems in violation of federal regulations, so we can only imagine the the president’s alarm upon learning about such a serious matter. One might wonder how the president failed to notice it during the four Clinton served as his Secretary of State, during which time one can only assume there was some e-mail communication between the two, but so far no one in the press has been so rude as to ask about it. If they ever do, the president will probably have to await the morning papers to learn of his response.
If not for the press, a number of serious situations might have entirely escaped the president’s attention. The invaluable Sheryl Atkisson, demonstrating again the lese majeste that led to her departure from CBS News, has helpfully compiled a list of seven other times that the president professed to be shocked by press accounts of major stories. It starts way back in the early days of the Obama administration with Air Force One buzzing the State of Liberty and frightening the understandably skittish New Yorkers, continues with the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme at the Department of Justice, then the sex scandal involving Central Intelligence Agency director Gen. David Petraeus, and of course the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups, then the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, then the National Security Agency’s spying on foreign leaders, and then the phony record keeping to cover up the substandard care being provided by the Veterans Administration. One of the commenters at Atkisson’s site mentions several more, including the problems leading up to the disastrous roll-out of the Obamacare web site, but they’re too numerous mention.
That portion of the public still devoted to the president seems willing to give him a pass on these problems, since he presumably didn’t know they were going on would surely have done something about it if he did, but the rest of us are entitled to some concern about his inability to keep abreast of what’s going on in his government. We suppose the president can’t keep up on everything, what with all the golfing and fund-raising and appeasing his job entails, but Air Force One and the DOJ and the CIA and the IRS and the NSA and the VA and the State Department are all under the purview of the executive brand and ultimately the responsibility of the chief executive. We can’t recall the heads of any high officials rolling for their failure to notify the president of the major developments unfolding on his watch, except for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who also seemed surprised to find out about that Obamacare web site, and the president never seems at all embarrassed to say that some ink-stained wretches who have to file Freedom of Information Act requests and wait to get their phone calls returned and accept “no comments” on the first many tries somehow knew better than the president what was going on in the executive branch.
Perhaps the president was aware of these many problems as they occurred but was unable or unwilling to deal with them, but if so that is a problem. Perhaps the government is simply too vast for any one person to know what it is up to, but if so that’s also a problem, and one that the president seems determined to compound by vastly expanding both the government and the executive branch’s control over it. The biggest problem is that if you only know what you read in the papers, you don’t know much.

– Bud Norman

A Not-So-Crazy Middle East Conspiracy Theory

Being unfamiliar with the Kuwaiti press, we have no idea how much credence to give Al-Jarida‘s report that in 2014 the Obama administration thwarted an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities by threatening to shoot down the Israeli jets. Being all too familiar with the Obama administration and its dealing with both Israel and Iran, however, we can’t dismiss the story as entirely implausible.
The usually reliable Times of Israel quotes a former Israeli Defense Forces chief as saying that a strike against Iran was seriously considered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but ultimately rejected on the advice of himself and other top military officers, which also seems within the realm of possibility, and we will await with open mind whatever confirmations or denials the administration’s various spokesmen might provide. Still, there’s no shaking a unsettling suspicion that President Barack Obama might actually have threatened to wage war against Israel in defense of Iran.
Obama’s antipathy for Israel and ardent desire for rapprochement with Iran have long been apparent, but have been especially conspicuous in the lead-up to Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Tuesday. The speech is at the invitation of the Republican leadership, and the president is claiming it is a breach of diplomatic protocol for Netanyahu to have accepted without the president’s approval, that it constitutes unethical meddling in a foreign nation’s politics to schedule the speech within weeks of Israeli elections, and that it could endanger America’s on negotiations with the Iran government over its nuclear weapons program. None of which is at all convincing, unless you’re one of the obedient Democrats who are huffily boycotting the speech. Obama’s own frequent breaches of protocol toward Israel include having its head of state cool his heels in a White House office for hours and allowing high administration officials to impugn Netanyahu’s courage with barnyard epithets, groups loyal to Obama have been openly campaigning in Israel and his own preferences regarding the election have been well-known to the Israeli public, and Netanyahu can only endanger America’s deal with Iran by making a persuasive case to Congress and the American people that it is dangerous the security of Israel and America and the rest of the world. The president’s annoyance with Netanyahu and Israel at large preceded the invitation to make the speech by at least seven years, and his peculiar affinity for Iran’s America-hating theocracy goes back as far.
Obama’s apparent desire is to allow Iranian regional hegemony and nuclear weapons and international respectability in exchange for, well, we’re not sure exactly, but assume it will include some assurance that they’ll help deal with the Islamic State al-Qaeda and other regional pests and abandon their frequently stated goal of the death of America. He probably also expects a grand photo opportunity as he delivers peace in our time, and a good write-up in the history books as the man who finally brought lasting amity to the Middle East, but he seems awfully worried that Netanyahu will make a persuasive case that it’s all a dangerous pipe dream. Iran’s state-run news agency is peddling the typically crazy Middle East conspiracy theory that America is secretly behind the Islamic State, the government is offering safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists despite their Sunnism, Iranian street demonstrations still feature the ritual chant of death to America, and the country’s influence is reading into Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan and elsewhere in the region without ceding anything to the Great Satan. With Obama protecting Iran from the sanctions that had recently brought its economy to a near halt, and with no immediate disavowals that he’s also been protecting it from Israeli jets, the country has no reason to agree to any deal that threatens their dream of nuclear weapons and whatever apocalyptic plans they might have for them. That would set off a nuclear arms race in a region characterized by religious manias and ancient hatreds, with Saudi Arabia having already made arrangements with nuclear-armed Pakistan in the event of an Iranian bomb being developed, and Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for any discomfort he might have about that scenario.
The Secretary of State has declined to state “what is or isn’t the situation” regarding his negotiations with Iran, and Obama’s only argument for his policies seems to be that we should trust him, but alas, we don’t. At this point, we’re not even sure that he hasn’t threatened to shoot down Israeli planes to defend an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

– Bud Norman

The Separation of Powers and Other Constitutional Irrelevancies

Much of what we learned in our school days has been rendered obsolete by the march of progress. An automotive class once taught us how to rebuild a carburetor, a skill that has proved useless in dealing with the fuel-injected automobiles we have subsequently owned. We once prided ourselves on our ability to sift through card files and Periodicals of Publications and arcane volumes gathering dust on library shelves to come up with needed information, but even that skill has atrophied with infrequent use over the past many years of internet search engines. Our recollection of food pyramids and global cooling and the rest of what they kept yakking about in our health and science classes is vague, but we assume most of that is also out of fashion.
All that stuff they taught us about the Constitution and its checks and balances and separations of power and how a bill becomes law is apparently no longer applicable, as well, although we’re not at all sure this is progress.
An up-to-date curriculum would now teach students that the president has the unilateral power to make immigration law, enter treaties with foreign powers, enforce carbon regulations that even the most left-wing Congress in history explicitly declined to pass, and assume control of the internet without even answering any questions from Congress. Even when the most left-wing Congress in history did grant the president’s request by passing the abominable Obamacare law the president insisted that it be implemented according to his most politically advantageous timetable rather than according to what is written into the law, and that part about subsidies being available only through state exchanges is apparently to be ignored entirely because it doesn’t say what the president wants it to say. Now the president intends to enforce gun control regulations, so it seems all that stuff we were taught about the Second Amendment and its right to bear arms will also need revision.
The president’s latest dictate doesn’t ban AR-15 rifles, only the bullets that go in them, but this will make little difference to the law-abiding owners of those weapons. For some reason the AR-15 is an especially offensive firearm to the left, probably because its appearance is so similar to that of the weapons used by that nasty military of ours, to the extent that the last round of post-school-shooting hysteria offered up legislation to ban it, but the fact that Congress voted down the idea is apparently no longer an impediment to its implementation. There’s still some resistance to the president’s executive actions in both the courts and the House of Representatives, but enough of the Republicans in the Senate are resigned to the president’s unilateral power to make immigration that it might well be so. The White House has offered a “tweet”-sized explanation that “We’re a nation of laws, but we’re also respecting the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants,” which doesn’t seem very respectful of the notion of lawful immigration, but so the president has “tweeted” and so shall it be done. At least we’re able to grouse about it on this electronic forum, but it remains to be seen if that will out-last the Federal Communication Commission’s new regulations, which the FCC chairman declined to explain to the duly-elected members of Congress.
All of this will be perfectly fine with the president’s more devoted admirers, who much prefer him to that old system of checks and balances and separations of power and how a bill becomes a law, but they ought to be asking themselves how they’d like such powers to be in the hands of a Republican president. It could happen some day, after all, and would not only easily un-do all the presidential proclamations of the Obama era but unleash a wide range of policies that would surely unsettle the left. They could expect some help from principled conservatives who support the ends but not the means, and perhaps the courts will offer some restraints on the executive branch after years of wrangling over President Obama’s orders, and of course the press will suddenly be outraged, but we expect they will find it  a dangerous precedent.

– Bud Norman

Motive, Results, and All the Hubbub

There’s still a lot of talk about President Barack Obama’s patriotism and religiosity, or lack thereof, so we figure we might as well weigh in.
The questions have persisted for the past seven years or so, ever since Obama was first campaigning for the presidency, but the latest round in the ongoing debate was prompted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remark during a recent speech that “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.” This commonplace opinion of course provoked outrage from the press, which immediately demanded that every prominent Republican repudiate the idea or be tarred as the sort of America-hating traitors who would question a political opponent’s patriotism. The first to be grilled was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was present at the speech and is a frontrunner for the next Republican presidential nomination, but just about anyone else whose name might come up in a conversation about the race was eventually obliged to opine on the matter. Most took the position that they’d rather criticize the results Obama’s policies are having on America than speculate about his motives, which strikes us as a reasonable and respectful stance for an opposition party to take, but apparently even Republicans are expected to profess their faith in Barack Obama’s undying love for his country. Anything less, according to The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, is symptomatic of some dread psychological impairment called “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”
Any skepticism regarding the president’s Christianity is “insidious agnosticism,” according to The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, which is what happens when the press inevitably starts pressing Republicans about the president’s true religious beliefs. Walker was naturally the first to be asked about what lurks deep in the president’s heart and mind, and scandalized the press by saying that he did not presume to know, and soon the rest of the rest of the potential Republican field had spoken more or less the same outrageous slander at the president, with even Giuliani falling back on the same sensible position. Polls were trotted out showing that a sizable minority of the American public suspects the president is secretly Muslim, much tsk-taking was done about how right-wing media had so slyly perpetuated such a slanderous slur, although there’s certainly nothing wrong with the president being Muslim, which is after all a Religion of Peace and part of the fabric of American history, as the president has often pointed out, and the clear implication was made that those Republicans have gone mad with their disrespect of both the presidency and the United States of America for which it stands.
We can’t recall the press insisting on such institutional respect back when President Chimpy McBushitler occupied the Oval Office and the “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was coined, and former Vice President Al Gore was shrieking that “He betrayed our country” and Keith Olbermann was doing his “you, sir, are a Nazi” diatribes to applause from all the right people, and when candidate Barack Obama was blasting the “unpatriotic” half-trillion dollar deficits that he would soon double, and on the innumerable other occasions when prominent Democrats impugned the opposition’s motives, but the rule against questioning an opponent’s patriotism is flexible that way. The press no doubt hopes they can portray the Republicans as crazed conspiracy theorists with an irrational hated of the First Black President, but they should be worried that the questions persist after so many years.
One didn’t have to be tuned into Fox News to hear the president say he believed in American exceptionalism only to the extent that British or Greek believed in British or Greek exceptionalism, or when his wife said that first time she’d felt proud to be an American was when the country seem poised to her elect her husband president, or when he apologized for America’s “arrogance” and “dismissiveness” toward Europe or its past aggressions against the underdeveloped nations, and it’s hard to see where the policies resulting from these inclinations has furthered America’s interests abroad. The “fundamental transformation” of America that candidate Obama promised has delivered similarly desultory results at home, and although recent economic growth can be damned with the faint praise of outperforming Europe the administration seems as intent as ever on emulating the European model. The president has written about his conversion to Christianity through a preacher who once thundered “God damn America” from the pulpit, he told The New York Times about how the Muslim call to prayer was one of the “most beautiful sounds” he has heard, he frequently extols the greatness of Islam and his most notable recent reference to Christianity was a warning that it should not “get on a high horse” because of long-ago episodes as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and he told the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” none of which are the kinds of things that Christians usually say. The policies that have followed from such inclinations have resulted in the spread of radical Islam throughout much of the Middle East, leaving all sorts of nastiness in its wake and encouraging the continued terroristic attacks on the west, and the best efforts of the press can not erase all possible doubt about the reasons.
Which is not to say that we question the president’s love of country or abiding Christian faith. He might well love America so much that he wants to turn it into Europe, and have arrived at some revolutionary understanding of Christianity that acknowledges Mohammad as the true prophet who must not be slandered with any doubts about his prophecy, and in any case he seems alarmingly confident that he’s doing what’s best for the country and the entire world. Most liberals we know pride themselves on their less-than-fulsome assessment of America, an anecdotal observation borne out by polling data, but they consider this a patriotic chore they must perform lest America become too proud of itself. At this late date in a lame duck presidency we’re more concerned about the results, which we and a number of soon-to-be-beheaded Christians find displeasing, and we’re willing to forgive any Republican contenders who are insufficiently effusive about the president’s pureness of heart.

– Bud Norman

Softball Questions and Their Perils

Public figures should always beware of the friendly interview. Our many years of media servitude have taught us that the most kindly questions tend to elicit the most embarrassing answers, and that an interviewer’s knowing nods of approval will invariably provoke an an unguarded interviewee into even further embarrassment. President Barack Obama, who has a marked fondness for the friendly interview, once again proves the point in his free-flowing conversation with Matt Yglesias at the Vox.com web site.
The president usually prefers to take his case to the likes of the 60 Minutes program, which has boasted it won’t play any “gotcha” tricks on him, or late night television comedians such as Jon Stewart and David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, who invite him to join in on the hip humor, or the “Pimp With a Limp” radio show, which we suppose offers some sort of “street cred” without any of the “yo’ mama” sort of “dissing” that one usually endures to acquire, but he will occasionally reach out to more respectable but no less respectful publications. The ploy, alas, has never worked out well. Even with a former Clinton apparatchik-turned-ABC correspondent Obama found himself speaking of “my Muslim faith, he couldn’t schmooze with such a genial chap as Jay Leno without making Special Olympics jokes about his bowling skills, an appearance on the “Pimp With a Limp” radio show is humiliating in itself, and such a genteel publication as The Atlantic Monthly recently had him dismissing the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism even as it was conquering a large swathe of the Middle East. Chatting with such an obsequious scribe as Matt Yglesias at such a fashionably liberal site as Vox.com was bound to be trouble.
The interview is divided between domestic politics and foreign affairs, and we’ll limit our outrage to the latter. That portion opens with a pretentious attempt to locate Obama’s foreign policy on a scale between “idealism” and “realism,” allowing the president to wisely position in himself somewhere between the extremes of Woodrow Wilson “out there with the League of Nations and imaging everybody holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ and imposing these wonderful rules everybody abides by,” and the “realist” camp that is “supporting dictators who happen to be our friend, and you’re cutting deals and solely pursuing the self-interest of our country as narrowly defined.” This is a familiar position for Obama, who also represents the country’s last choice between those who would rape the environment and enslave the working man or those who would do away with commerce altogether, which we assume is the theme of the domestic politics portion of the interview, and he could be confident that Yglesias wouldn’t offer any challenge. We would have been tempted to ask how Obama’s deference to the United Nations is any different than Wilson’s mania for the equally ineffectual League of Nations, or whether he was more annoyed by Wilson’s decision to enter World War I just because of some German sabotage and the sinking of American vessels and the proved plot to lead Mexico into a revanchist war against the United States or the unfortunate situation America would find itself in if the world were dominated by Prussian militarism, and if the deal that the administration is cutting with the dictators in Iran seemingly because they are not our friends is at all “realistic,” but that’s probably why we weren’t granted the interview.
There is much more similarly self-aggrandizing nonsense, including some concerned talk about the problem of “failed states” that neglects any mention of Islamic State-controlled Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Somalia or any of the other basket-cases that were recently cited as the administration’s great foreign policy success, and some talk about how we can nonetheless afford massive defense cuts while our debt service payments largely fund the Chinese military’s ongoing build-up, as well as some bragging about the withdrawal of troops from what is Islamic State-occupied Iraq, and of course Yglesias only invites him to ramble on with more howlers. Most noticed, at least in the conservative portion of the media, was Obama’s grousing about the media’s strange insistence on reporting the latest acts of Islamic terror rather than focusing on ore pressing problems such as “climate change.” Egged on by the seemingly helpful Yglesias, Obama likened it to the “if it bleeds it leads” formula that has your local news station reporting on the big pile-up on the interstate or the double homicide in the poor part of town rather than the colder-than-predicted weather. The president’s priorities seem markedly different than those of the public, which we suspect regards Islamic terrorism as a newsworthy concern, but no one at Vox.com is likely to raise the point.
Lulled by such awed acquiescence the president went on to mention “the folks” who were killed at “random target” in the aftermath of the slaughter of the staff of a French satirical magazine, as if the target that Islamic terrorists randomly chose just happened to turn out to be a kosher delicatessen where the “folks” just happened to be Jews, and that was too much for the even the mainstream to endure. At the White House press conference the unenviable spokesman Josh Earnest endured numerous questions about the characterization, and his efforts to dodge them all make for entertaining viewing. We notice the president wasn’t pressed by Yglesias about such “folks” as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his countrymen, which we suppose is only polite, the Jewish question being such a sensitive one, but it would have also been fun. That would have lured the conversation into that unfriendly territory where public figures become guarded, though, and might not have been so revealing.

– Bud Norman

To Vaccine, or Not to Vaccine

There’s been a spate of news stories about vaccinations lately, and we’re not sure why. It seems to have something to do with an outbreak of measles that started in California and has since spread to seven other states, Mexico, and the bloodstream of the nation’s politics as far away as New Jersey, as the press has avidly pressed all the prominent public figures about their stands on mandatory vaccinations. Most of the brouhaha seems to involve two of the more prominent potential Republican presidential candidates, rather than what the people who actually make current policy are doing, so we suspect all the coverage might have more to do with partisanship rather than the public health.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have both been pilloried for offering the opinion that perhaps in some cases vaccinations should be voluntary, with many pundits extrapolating that such anti-science craziness is running amok in the Republican party, but the storyline might lead to conclusions that the press does not intend.
Although we’re not inclined to support the presidential candidacies of either Christie or Paul their comments don’t seem so very extreme, and to the extent they are it’s hardly a craziness unique to the Republican party. Christie reportedly called for “balance” between individual rights and community health and “some measure of choice” before clarifying the comments by saying “there is no question that children should be vaccinated.” Paul waded into deeper waters by claiming vaccinations should be voluntary as they have been associated with mental disorders and saying that parents “should have some input,” which led to the resurrection of earlier quotes likening mandatory vaccinations to martial law, but he’s also done some clarifying by saying that he didn’t mean to find a causation rather than just a correlation between vaccination and mental disorders and the demonstrating his acceptance of vaccination as a medical practice by “tweeting” a photograph of himself getting a booster shot. Both men might be mistaken even in their most carefully clarified opinions, but neither seem to be on the lunatic fringe.
We have no expertise in any medical field that would entitle us to comment on the matter, but our general experience of civilization has inoculated in us a belief that individual liberty and parental rights should not weigh lightly on the scale counter-balancing communal concerns. Nor do we trust blindly in scientific expertise, which has never been infallible and lately seems more fallible than ever. If the people who truly do know what they’re talking about are verifiably correct that such coercive measures as barring un-vaccinated children from school are required to protect the reset of the population from outbreaks of deadly disease we have no problem with those policies, but that conclusion can only be verified by the most skeptical analysis. There’s a long history of public policy and jurisprudence on the question of mandatory vaccinations, with public debate pushing the scales on both sides at various times, and one can only hope that if the debate isn’t shut down prematurely it will lead to the most beneficial outcome this time around.
Skeptical analysis will strike some as a superstitious and anti-scientific attitude, and this may well be one of those occasions when skepticism is overcome by scientific proof, but it is by no means unique to any particular party or political philosophy. The eminently conservative National Review makes an eminently conservative case for mandatory vaccinations, while the anti-vaccination groups are largely funded by liberal donors. Such an influential pundit as Jon Stewart let Robert Kennedy Jr. go on about his anti-vaccination views,  and fellow agitprop comic Bill Maher voiced opinions that go beyond what Christie or Paul ever while said  token Republican guest former Republican Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist was calling him “crazy.” For as long as we can remember the pretty face of the anti-vaccination movement has been former Playboy model and reality television star Jenny McCarthy, and although we’re not sure of her political views on any other topic we doubt she’s a doctrinaire Republican. An instinctive distrust of the medical establishment is now more common among the holistic and homeopathic sort of liberals than it is among those simple rural Republican folk who used to fall for goat-gland quackery but now sign up for insurance that will cover all the latest medical marvels, and if we all die for lack of vaccination it will be hard to pin it on the Republican party or conservatism generally.
This all started in California, as we recall from a few paragraphs ago, and there’s no plausible way to blame the Republicans for anything that happens there. After several giddy stories about Christie’s and Paul’s apparent missteps The Washington Post got around to reporting that even presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton might take a mistaken step in the “political minefield” of vaccination politics, but in her case they worry that her past advocacy of mandatory vaccinations will be a liability and that her brief flirtation with the now-assumed-debunked theory that vaccinations cause autism will also be a problem. Given that Clinton is more likely to be the Democratic nominee than either Christie or Paul are to be the Republican standard-bearer, that story might stick around longer.
In case you’re wondering where the current president stands on this, be assured that a grand total of three reporters among the ravenous pack at the latest press conference put the question to the White House spokesman. It took all three tries and more than an hour, but at they at last elicited the answer that parents certainly should have their children vaccinated, and that therefore every parent will do so,  so the federal government need not force them to do so. This strikes us as very similar to the more controversial remarks by Christie and Paul, and just as incoherent, but it comes from the White House and is therefore assumed to be a very centrist and reasonable position. There were no question regarding the $50 million that Obama’s budget proposes cutting from vaccination programs for the uninsured, but we would have enjoyed hearing the response.
Having no children we don’t have to reach any decisions concerning pediatric inoculations, and unless any of our personal problems can be somehow attributed to some previously undetected form of autism we are grateful that our parents chose to follow the prevailing medical advice of decades past, although we’ve forgone any shots for many years now without any apparent ill effects, but we offer no advice to anyone regarding vaccinations. Whatever you might be forced to choose, you’ll probably make as good a guess as any politician.

– Bud Norman

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