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A Bad Week at the UN

Several of the world’s leaders addressed the United Nations this week, and it was a frightening spectacle.

The president of Iran delivered an eschatological rant about the coming return of both Jesus Christ and the Twelfth Imam, called for a new world order organized in opposition to the west, predicted that the Islamist uprising known as the “Arab spring” will spread across the globe, and later told reporters that Israel will eventually be “eliminated.” The newly-installed president of Egypt demanded that freedom of expression be restricted to prevent criticism of Islam, and the president of Yemen echoed the call. Continuing in a disconcertingly similar vein, the president of the United States went so far as to say that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

Obama went on to condemn the destruction of Christian churches and denial of the Holocaust, both of which are all-too-common forms of expression in the Middle East, and he also gave a brief defense of the first amendment to America’s constitution, which he noted is so permissive that it even allows for criticism of himself. Still, there was something unsettling about the specific deference to the prophet of Islam.

Along with some full-throated and harshly worded denunciations of the little-known home movie that the administration continues to blame for the outbreak of deadly rioting at American embassies around the world, the president’s concern for Islam’s reputation is clearly an attempt at placating a lunatic mob. Elsewhere the administration is now conceding the obvious fact that the deadly attack on the vulnerable American embassy in Libya was a long-planned terrorism attack that merely used the movie as a pretext, and the past weeks of thumbs-down reviews of the movie have not stopped the demonstrations, but the president’s faith in the power of appeasement apparently remains strong.

Even if the violence could be quelled by the submissive silence of all Americans, it would not be nearly worth the price. Better men that Barack Obama have fought and died to protect the right to free speech, and more of them stand ready to do the same..

Obama is now careful to tout the American tradition of protecting the right of free expression, but his words will surely ring hollow to the man who made that much-maligned movie, now residing behind bars after the administration found his work “reprehensible and disgusting.” Officially the filmmaker is being held for a violation of his probation on a charge of bank fraud, which reportedly forbade him to post anything on the internet, but the notion that his imprisonment has nothing to do with the administration’s desire to demonstrate its respect for the religious sensibilities of the howling mob is as far-fetched as the notion that numerous spontaneous riots against the months-old movie just happened to break out on the eleventh of September.

The cost of sacrificing free speech to the mobs of the Middle East would especially dear. Those mobs have made clear over the past centuries that anyone who doesn’t believe that Islam is the one true religion, which includes the vast majorty of Americans, is slandering its prophet by saying so. They also regard as slander any statement that takes issue with the misogyny, poverty, disease, illiteracy, technological backwardness, xenophobia, and brutality that prevail wherever the religion has become dominant. One can only hope that futures does indeed belong to those who are willing to take such a stand.

— Bud Norman

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Taking Satire Seriously

These are hard times for the satire business, and not just because of the bad economy. The bigger problem for the modern satirist is that no parody can be so broad, so exaggerated, so obviously made-up that much of the public won’t take it seriously.

Yet another example of this phenomenon was recently provided by the many supposedly smart writers who regurgitated some obviously fabricated quotes attributed to Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The column had Ryan responding to some pol’s claim that he would have to wash off the “stench” of his association with Mitt Romney by saying such things as “If Stench calls, take a message” and “tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.” A casual reader could be forgiven for failing to notice the satirical intent because of its lack of humor, a usual indicator of satire, but the quotes are so at odds with the usual caricature of Ryan as bland and annoying wholesome that it should have tipped off anyone the slightest bit astute.

An even more frustrating example from recent days is Mitt Romney’s infamous statement that “I can relate to black people, my ancestors once owned slaves.” Romney never said any such thing, of course, and anyone who wants to trace this bizarre rumor to its source will eventually arrive at a little-known internet publication with the telling name of “Free Wood Post,” which bills itself as “news that’s almost reliable” and offers a disclaimer that flatly states all articles are fiction and “any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.” Even this was insufficient to prevent the quote from appearing on countless blogs, tweets, and exceptionally gullible cable news networks such as MSNBC.

Similar mistakes are too numerous to mention. Cases of people falling for similarly obvious attempts at satire in the widely-read on-line satire publication The Onion are so common that a site called “Literally Unbelievable” has been created just to chronicle them.

This problem goes back at least as far as the era of Mark Twain, who noted that “To write a burlesque so wild that its pretended facts will not be accepted in perfect good faith by somebody is very nearly an impossible thing to do,” but we suspect that it’s far more in the post-Gutenberg era of sitcoms and Saturday Night Live-derived movies. As practitioners of a drier form of wit, we’ve discovered that too many people now require a comically contorted face or outstretched palms or some other form of ample warning that a joke is coming, with a howling laugh track to accompany both the set-up and the punch line, and then have it followed by a capitalized “LOL” in order to understand that a remark is not meant to be taken literally.

We suspect the polarized state of American politics probably has something to do with, too, as people are ever more eager to believe the very worst about their ideological opponents. At the “Literally Unbelievable” site there are several examples of Republicans falling for clearly satirical exaggerations, but the Democrats who truly believe that anyone to the right of Sen. Al Franken is plotting for environmental Armageddon and the restoration of slavery seem to be most susceptible to mistaking satire for journalism.

Alas, the fabricated quotes will undoubtedly cost Romney a few votes from the humor-challenged community. Given the skittishness that the supposedly brave and transgressive wags lately have about poking fun at the president, it’s unlikely that the lost votes will be offset from imaginary quotes attributed to Obama. Which is a shame, because Obama is the one who actually said that line about his ancestors owning slaves, and we write that with a straight face.

— Bud Norman

Strictly From Hunger

How heartening to see that a small group of Kansas high school students have taken a stand against the establishment. The issue at hand is merely their dislike of the lunches served at their school, and all they’ve done about it is post a homemade music video on YouTube, but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless.

Griping about the food in the school cafeteria is a time-honored tradition of American students, of course, but the youngsters at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs have the unprecedented complaint that there isn’t enough of it. They contend that a recent federal regulation limiting school lunches to 850 calories is causing them to go hungry through the afternoon. Given that most of the students in the far western Kansas town of Sharon Springs live a hearty and calorie-burning rural lifestyle, and that a leader of the protest also plays for the Wallace County Wildcats football team, we don’t doubt that the complaint is valid.

The video that the students have produced in response is a strangely wholesome affair, hardly the sort of angry agitprop that earlier generations have come to expect from a campus uprising, but we welcome any sort of challenge to governmental authority from the younger set. Our observation of today’s youngsters reveals they are a distressingly compliant and unquestioning lot, which is a most unnatural state for the young, and that whatever anti-establishment sensibilities they do have were indoctrinated into their empty heads by hippie civics teachers who peeled the “Question Authority” bumper stickers off their hybrid cars the moment a Democrat was elected president. Judging by the young cohort’s enthusiasm for Obama, they’re not just willing but downright eager to be led through life bureaucratic fiat.

At least until they wind up hungry on an afternoon full of math problems, English essays, and high school melodrama, apparently. One hopes that once the students realize they’ve been regulated into an unsatisfied appetite they’ll begin to look askance at the rest of massive regulatory state they’ve inherited and wonder what other problems it might causing.

It’s a sad state of affairs when grumpy old men such as ourselves are grousing about how obedient and polite the young folks are, and waxing nostalgic about how in our day we were so darned cynical that we didn’t even trust the hippie civics teachers with the Earth-friendly cars, but here we are. The kids in Sharon Springs seem to have an inkling, though, and here’s hoping that it spread. Prohibition started in the small towns of Kansas, so maybe this time it will be a yearning for freedom and an extra order of French fries that spreads through the country.

— Bud Norman

The 60 Minutes Man

Regular readers of this publication are aware that we do not hesitate to find fault with Barack Obama, and thus might be surprised that we think the criticism of the president’s remarks on the “60 Minutes” program have been overstated.

Not that the remarks weren’t outrageous. Obama described the wave of rioting throughout the Middle East and beyond that resulted in the deaths of an ambassador and three other Americans as “bumps in the road.” He described the Israeli Prime Minister’s pleas for help in saving his country from a nuclear holocaust as “noise” that he will “block out.” He also made some highly misleading excuses for the more than $5 trillion that has been added to the national debt during his term.

Such nonsense warrants scorn, of course, but in the grand scheme of things they are just more of the dumb things that the president often says. The real outrage should be reserved for the results of the foolish notions that these things express.

Even more galling than the president’s callous indifference to the deaths of four Americans are the deaths themselves, and that the administration ignored warnings from the Libyan government and the ambassador himself that could have prevented it, and that our government has since sought to appease the murderers by apologizing for the free speech that is said to have given them offense. Further tragedies lie at the end of the Islamist road that the Middle East is now taking, and the real problem isn’t the “bumps” along the way.

The president’s apparent indifference to the fate of Israel’s nearly 800 million souls is another problem, and not just his willingness to admit it. Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu could persuade him to take a greater interest in the possibility of Iran’s insane government acquiring a nuclear weapon, but that meeting will apparently have to await Obama’s heavy schedule of schmoozing with television and movie stars.

Obama’s failure to take more than 10 percent of the blame for the country’s looming insolvency is admittedly infuriating, but even more worrisome is the possibility that he actually believes it. So long as he can convince himself that he bears no blame for skyrocketing national debt, Obama likely will not regard it as a problem that needs addressing.

Our conservatives colleagues are correct to criticize the president’s words, but let’s hope it won’t distract from real problems they help reveal.

— Bud Norman

Mitt Romney’s Taxes

Anyone who was planning to vote against Mitt Romney because he’s greedy and won’t release his tax returns should take note that he has now released yet another year of returns and that they reveal he’s an extraordinarily generous man who has given away a large chunk of his wealth. He’s not nearly so generous with his money as Barack Obama, who would selflessly redistribute every last penny of Romney’s wealth, but it’s a remarkable record of philanthropy nonetheless.

The more egalitarian types will be appalled that Romney made $13.7 million last year, and further appalled that the mere $1.94 million he paid in federal income taxes was only 14.1 percent of it, but those who read further into the stories about it should grudgingly acknowledge that the more than $4 million that he donated to various charities is a right neighborly gesture. Also worth noting, although buried toward the bottom of most reports, is that Romney actually paid more taxes than he was legally required to because he did not claim a deduction on most of his charitable giving. This is in stark contrast to the famously empathetic Bill Clinton, who was so meticulous in his tax preparations that he even deducted the value of the used underwear he donated to some charity that deals in such items.

Still, Romney probably didn’t pay enough to satisfy the cravings of his critics, most of whom will require several lifetimes in order to contribute $1.94 million to the government’s operations. They’ll note that most of the money Romney made was derived from capital gains on his many shrewd investments, and complain that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than other income. The historical fact that a higher capital gains rate results in less economic activity that employs people and thus results in less money for the government will be overruled by their peculiar notion of fairness.

Critics will further quibble that Romney hasn’t provided 20 years of tax returns, which for no particular reason is the new standard of financial candor, but Romney has provided that information to the Price Waterhouse Coopers firm and they stake their valuable reputation on a report that he has paid 38.49 percent of his adjusted gross income to the federal government. This amounts to many millions of dollars, and although that might not be enough to satisfy the covetousness of the modern egalitarian is certain proves that Sen. Harry Reid was peddling a slanderous lie when he took to the Senate floor to allege that Romney had paid no income taxes at all.

Other people’s income tax filings don’t have the voyeuristic appeal for us that they seem to have for other folks, but what we’ve gleaned from Romney’s forms make us think that he’s not such a bad fellow after all.

— Bud Norman

Viva la Univision

The Univision network isn’t a staple of our sparse television diet, mostly because we don’t habla español or watch soccer, but we must now tip our hat to the same good folks that give the world Sãbado Gigante. Although the network serves a mostly Hispanic audience, it did the entire nation a favor on Thursday by actually lobbing a few tough questions at Barack Obama.

This is such an unusual occurrence that the combative nature of the questions proved more newsworthy than the questionable answers they provoked. Even the reliably liberal Politico, which has had plenty of opportunities to pose a tough question or two, was forced to concede that Obama “faced some of the toughest questioning of his reelection campaign to date.”

Host Jorge Ramos demanded to know why the president had failed to pass a promised immigration reform law even when his party held overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress, prompting Obama to go right ahead and blame the Republicans Ramos, but Ramos retorted that “You promised that, and a promise is a promise, and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.” Ramos was as aggressive in asking about the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning operation, which resulted in the death of more than 200 Mexicans as well as an American law enforcement agent, and when Obama blamed the Bush administration and some unnamed low-level employees Ramos posed a follow-up question about why Attorney General Eric Holder shouldn’t be fired.

Proving that Hispanics also care about the same national security issues as the rest of the right-thinking people in America, Ramos also asked some unexpectedly tough questions about the deadly attack on the American consulate in Libya. Ignoring the query about why the United States wasn’t better prepared for the violence, Obama continued to blame the incident on a rarely-seen and amateurishly produced movie and said that he was awaiting the results of investigation before concluding if the attack was terrorism.

Numerous stories have been published lately detailing the lax security at the consulate and the warnings from foreign governments that were ignored, all of them embarrassing to the administration, but most have come from the foreign press and none of them have gotten the screaming headlines and indignant broadcasts that would have surely occurred if such a screw-up had been committed a Republican administration. If Obama seemed a big weak in his response, it can be attributed to his surprise that anyone should ask such impertinent questions.

Obama’s odd lament that the most important lesson he’s learned as president “is that you can’t change Washington from the inside” has been getting some ink, mostly due to Mitt Romney’s immediate ridicule of the claim, but the bigger story is that the president finally got a taste of the press treatment that his opponents have endured.

— Bud Norman

Too Much to Remember

We haven’t watched David Letterman’s television program in many years, mostly because a lecherous old grouch making gruesome faces as he sneers at us is no longer so amusing as it was back when it was avant-garde, so we missed Tuesday’s appearance by Barack Obama. More diligent journalists who did sit through the show have since reported on the proceedings, however, and their descriptions raise serious doubts about Obama’s memory.

The President of the United States went on the show to plug his latest project, as celebrities are wont to do, and apparently found the host even obsequious than usual in his efforts to help out. Letterman asked Obama to respond to Romney’s much-publicized comments about the 47 percent of Americans likely to support the president, offering a rather misleading synopsis of the remarks, thus giving his guest an opportunity to wax eloquent about his desire to work on behalf of all Americans, and similar softballs were lobbed chest-high and over the middle of the plate throughout the interview. In a rare moment of lese-majesty, however, Letterman did raise the embarrassing matter of the national debt. He didn’t bother to question Obama’s self-serving and entirely wrong account of the deficit he inherited, but Letterman aggravated the gaffe by asking how much debt the country has currently accumulated.

Obama replied that he could not remember.

Such a lapse is worrisome. Although Obama could hardly be faulted for not knowing the precise number, which had increased by many millions during the short minutes of the interview, it is fair to expect that such a famously bright fellow should always have it on the very tip of his silver tongue that the national debt is in the pricey neighborhood of $16 trillion. It’s a memorably large number, much larger than anybody but astronomers and theoretical mathematicians ever had occasion to use until recently, and one should be able to expect that somebody in the government would be particularly attentive to it.

There was another similar moment of forgetfulness during the interview when Obama proudly boasted that he had never questioned the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with him. Sharper memories immediately recalled that a mere four years ago Obama had said that the $4 trillion of debt piled up during the eight years of the Bush administration proved that his predecessor was “unpatriotic.” The strain of having added $5 trillion to the debt in just four years makes it somewhat understandable, but it’s still troubling that someone so young exhibits such forgetfulness.

When the Republicans were running Reagan, Dole, McCain or similarly seasoned candidates there were also concerns raised that president might slip into dotage during his term. Obama seems fairly fit, although somewhat scrawny, but it might not be too early to suspect premature senility. The only alternative explanation is dishonesty, and we wouldn’t want to suggest that.

— Bud Norman

The 47 Percent Problem

Mitt Romney has been caught red-handed saying something unpleasantly true that very much needed to be said, so of course we’re all supposed to be appalled and write off his chances of winning the upcoming presidential election.
Mother Jones Magazine, the hippie journal of record, has released a surreptitiously recorded tape of ,Romney telling a group of well-heeled potential donors that 47 percent of Americans will be inclined to vote for Barack Obama “no matter what.” He goes on to explain that these Americans aren’t likely to support a campaign based on tax cuts and personal responsibility because they don’t pay income taxes, are dependent to some degree on government largesse, and consider themselves “victims” who are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

None of Romney’s numerous critics can truthfully state that this any of this isn’t plainly true — and they’re unwilling to note that he actually understated the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, which is closer to 49 — so they settled for accusing him of being insensitive, out of touch, mean, merciless, plutocratic, cannibalistic, and generally having all the other moral failings they routinely attribute to Republicans. They also chortled that Romney had “disdainfully written off half the nation,” as the Obama campaign put it, and savored the possibility of winning a landslide based on the dependent-American vote.

Romney refused to back away from the comments during a Tuesday news conference, except to concede the “inelegant” phrasing, and we can hope that the argument he advanced in the remarks will now take its rightful place at the very forefront of the campaign. Having such a large segment of the country dependent on the labor of others is a recipe for economic decline, social disintegration, and is a bloody shame, no matter how much it flatters the moral vanity of the modern liberal. If giving a man a job is somehow less compassionate than giving him a handout, then compassion is much overrated.

We suspect that much of the slight majority paying for it all will be inclined to agree, and if the Democrats want to cast themselves as the party of welfare dependency, high taxes, and income redistribution they might also be writing off half the nation, and they should note that it’s the half that’s far more likely to actually get to the polls and vote. There are many in the income tax-paying class who work for the government, or feel guilty about their relative affluence, or have some other reason to vote for the ever-expanding welfare state, but one must hope that there are at least a similar number of people taking government assistance who would much prefer a job.

Romney should continue to press the argument before the number gets to 51 percent, which is a point of no return.

— Bud Norman

A Gathering Storm

There has been an avalanche of news lately, almost all of it portending bad outcomes. Mobs of perpetually outraged Muslims have been besieging the embassies of America and other western countries throughout the Middle East and beyond, Chinese mobs have been agitating for a war with Japan over some rocks sticking out of the Pacific Ocean, the long and almost forgotten war in Afghanistan seems to be going badly, a slew of data show the weak American economy is weakening further, the country gets another credit downgrade, and of course there’s always another day’s worth of stories about everything that Mitt Romney’s doing wrong.

It’s not so overwhelming that the president of the United States couldn’t enjoy a weekend of watching football, but it’s voluminous enough that you might have missed the story about the massive international armada that is converging on the Strait of Hormuz. This intriguing tidbit has been largely overlooked amidst all the competing news, but it could portend the worst outcome of all.

Ships heading toward the Strait of Hormuz or sailing nearby in the Mediterranean include three Nimitz class carrier groups and at least 12 battleships and assault ships carrying Marines and special forces from the United States, four minesweepers and a state-of-the-art destroyer from the British Royal Navy, a French aircraft carrier, and supporting warships from 22 other countries. The stated reason for this extraordinary meeting of naval power is a training exercise, but the Iranian government is clearly expected to understand that it is actually there in case of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. There is no reason to believe the armada will offer any direct assistance to the Israelis in such an event, and American foreign policy remains committed to restraining them indefinitely, but Iran has vowed to close the crucial sea lane, attack American bases throughout the region, and strike at any other western interests within range, so there is ample reason for the west to have some naval power handy should Iran dare to make good on its threats.

An Israeli attack on the nuclear facilities in Iran, where the ruling theocrats have openly expressed their ardent desire to destroy the Jewish state and all of its people, should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the situation over the past several years of ineffectual sanctions and failed diplomacy. It is somewhat surprising that the armada is readying for the expected strike now, given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently stated that Iran is still six or seven months from having 90 percent of what is needed to make a nuclear bomb, and the timing has led to much speculation.

One plausible theory is that the Israelis believe they need to strike during the American presidential election so that Obama will be constrained by public opinion from interfering with their efforts. Although Obama frequently expresses his staunch support of Israel, and with enough tele-promptered eloquence to convince many American voters, the Israelis seem to take a more skeptical view. Giving Obama the sort of scrutiny that is applied when the survival of a nation is a stake, the Israelis likely see a friend of Rashid Khalidi and other Palestinian radicals, a self-described spiritual protégé of a virulently anti-Semitic pastor, a man who has boasted of his long background with the Muslim world and his sympathy for its causes, and a pure product of an internationalist left that despises Israel.

Obama’s presidency has provided the Israelis little reassurance. The president spoke of the indefensible 1967 borders as starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians, has been more exorcised about Jewish apartments being built in Jerusalem than Jewish schools being bombarded with rockets on the Lebanon border, treated the Israeli Prime Minister with a pointed lack of diplomatic protocol, and lately claimed to be too busy for a meeting with Netanyahu even as he finds time for hobnobbing with “The Pimp With a Limp” and other celebrities. The Israelis might well conclude that the best time for action against Iraq is before a second Obama term.

This scenario is not offered as a prediction, merely a possibility. It’s a possibility well worth watching for, though, despite all the other news and even in football season.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and the Mob

The scene was reminiscent of those paranoid dystopian futurist movies that were so popular back in the Nixon era. A small army of brown-shirted government agents launch a midnight raid on an obscure filmmaker whose work has been deemed “reprehensible and disgusting” by the administration, hauling him off for questioning under the flimsiest of legal pretexts.

This actually happened on Saturday in Cerritos, California, where a man involved in the making of the suddenly infamous “Innocence of Muslims” film — which has been widely blamed for the murderous riots sweeping the Middle East — was taken from his home by sheriff’s officers at the behest of the federal government. The stated reason was a possible violation of the man’s probation on a charge of bank fraud, the terms of which reportedly forbid him to post anything on the internet, but in reality the man was being offered as a scapegoat to appease the mobs.

 

The White House continues to insist on the absurd fiction that the ongoing raucous protests outside American embassies throughout the world, which resulted in the death of an ambassador and four others in Libya, are solely the result of a spontaneous outrage over an amateurish and previously little-seen film. Never mind that the Libyan government has confirmed that the attack in their country was long planned by al Qaida as a retaliation for American strikes against their terror network, or the plentiful evidence that the attacks were coordinated, or that the chances of such a spontaneous uprising occurring on Sept. 11 are only one in 365 and that the chances of several such events happening several places on that significant date increase exponentially, we are assured that the Muslim world has no quarrel with an America led by Barack Obama.

If the only reason for the violence and threats is an amateurish film that had previously languished in well-deserved obscurity, then the administration apparently believes that it can make the problem go away simply by appeasing the mobs’ thirst for retribution against a man who had dared to criticize their religion. Mankind’s long history with mobs suggests they are not so easily placated, however, and even a cursory glance at the past 1,400 years or so will reveal that Islamist mobs especially difficult to satisfy. The usual result of appeasement efforts is an ever-expanding list of demands that cannot be met without submission to the mobs’ medieval religious views. Even if the mob’s could mollified by abandoning the First Amendment, it is not nearly worth the price.

The administration’s brazen attempt at censorship is all the more galling because it is cloaked in language about religious tolerance and respect for the religious sensibilities of others. The same administration that forces the Catholic Church to hand out contraceptives, that sat silently as mayors from its own party told a Baptist business owner that he was not allowed to work in his city without keeping his religion’s views about same-sex marriage to himself, and which happily and silently accepts the donations and propaganda support of an entertainment industry that routinely ridicules mainstream Christianity, now presumes to lecture this extraordinarily tolerant country about respect for religion.

It will be interesting to see if the people who made the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster celebrating Obama’s heroic killing of Osama bin Laden, a movie likely to enflame the religious resentments of many Muslims, will receive the same heavy-handed treatment from the administration. Once the censorship starts it is hard to stop, but we suspect that some allowances will be made for friendly media.

— Bud Norman