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The Rage on the Left and the Rage on the Right on Our Doubts Here in the Middle

Thursday was so full of infuriatingly unresolved news that we couldn’t decide what to write about, so we went to the reliably idiosyncratic Drudgereport.com to see what it considered the top story of the day. The very top of the home page featured a picture of comedian Amy Schumer raising a defiant feminist fist above the headline “Rage of the Left.”
Schumer has frequently cracked us up, even if that Netflix special of hers struck as both unfunny and downright distasteful, and we’re always fascinated by how annoyingly raging the left can be, so we “clicked” onto the “link.” It turned out to be an Associated Press story about the many women publicly objecting to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which we’re quite sure isn’t “fake news,” and although Schumer is mentioned in passing after several paragraphs it seemed a bit of “click bait.”.
Our long and desultory experience of both male and female human beings tells us that what she said is usually if not always more reliable than what he said, and with no particular political affiliation these days that’s how we’re assessing the news these days.
Presidential namesake Donald Trump Jr. has both sons and daughters, which we admit is more than we brag about, and he’s worried that his sons face a greater chance of being falsely accused of being charged by a woman with sexual misbehavior than his daughters do of suffering the sexual misbehavior of men. Given the numerous accusations against his boastfully pussy-grabbing father we can well understand the worry, but given his family history we’d also advise him to keep a watchful eye on his daughters. There are no doubt some false accusations against men that the right has every reason reason to be furious about, even if the right isn’t all furious about the frequent occasions when men on the left are accused, and we can well understand the rage. On the other hand, too many males do undeniably sexual misbehave on frequent occasions, and we can’t blame the suddenly fuddy-duddy left for being outraged about that.
We’ll leave it to the Senate and the movie studios and the rest of the broader popular culture to sort it all out, and in the meantime we’ll continue to try our best to comport ourselves as gentlemen.

— Bud Norman

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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

Cockiness in the Face of Scandal

All those pesky scandals seem to be taking their toll on the president’s popularity, judging by the latest round of opinion polls, but he remains confident. Cocksure might be the more apt word, in fact, given his recent actions.
The president is so little affected by the Benghazi fiasco that he has appointed as his new national security advisor the woman who played the lead role in peddling by the administration’s lies about it. Although the president has expressed his dismay that the Internal Revenue Service was singling out conservative groups for extraordinary scrutiny, yet the woman who ran the office where it was happening remains on her new job administering the vast Obamacare bureaucracy. The president’s Attorney General, meanwhile, remains in charge of a Justice Department that has been snooping through the phone records of reporters and millions of ordinary American citizens.
Having won re-election despite such scandals as the crony-capitalism Solyndra deal, the deadly Fast and Furious program, and the early revelations about the four deaths in Benghazi, and despite a weak economic recovery and the early warning signs that the Obamacare program was going to be a disaster, the administration’s cockiness is understandable. The president can safely assume that a significant portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, being too engrossed by the celebrity news programs where the president occasionally shows up as a much-fawned-over personage, and that another significant portion is so enamored of him and so hostile to his opponents that it will gladly forgive him any misdeed. Let the headlines inevitably recede, he can plausibly predict, and the more independent-minded voters will return to his cause just in time for the mid-term congressional and allow him to finish out his term with the unrestrained power that he enjoyed in his first two years.
It might work, but there is reason is to hope that it will not. The national media have at long last begun to notice the president’s fallibility, perhaps because the Justice Department’s probe of the Associated Press was one too many assaults on their profession, and although the media still haven’t reached the same levels of hysteria they displayed throughout the Bush administration they are at least more feisty than in the recent past. All the coverage seems to have dented the administration’s reputation for honesty, which never had any basis in reality to begin with, and once trust is lost it is rarely regained. Much of the public will begin look at the administration’s claims on a number of issues with a newfound skepticism, and when they take another look at the economy and Obamacare they’ll be harder to convince that things are going well.
There is no way of knowing how much the scandals have to do with it, but the president has not been successful lately in foisting his agenda on the country. He was routed on his pet gun control proposals, despite the emotional atmosphere that prevailed after the tragic Newtown shootings, and the immigration reforms that he has championed are stalled in Congress despite a bi-partisan effort to push them through while the scandals provide a smoke screen. The president was also forced to accept the “sequester” cuts in the rate of growth in the federal budget, with his efforts to blame every new misfortune on the slight decline failing to persuade anyone but the true believers, and if he has any economic program it doesn’t seem to be getting any attention.
This could all redound to the president’s benefit in the mid-terms, when the Democrats’ battle cry will be that everything is going to hell because the Republicans were too obsessed with insignificant scandals and failed to enact the president’s brilliant plan, whatever it was, but he shouldn’t be too cocky about it. The scandalous headlines will have receded a year from now, but they’ll have left a lingering sense of distrust and washed away the messianic image the president once enjoyed with the help of a partisan press, and they’ll be replaced by stories about health insurance rate hikes and the economic fallout of the Fed’s eventual realization that it can’t keep printing money forever, and the opposition will be both outraged and emboldened.

— Bud Norman

Elsewhere in the News

There are only so many stories that even the most avid news-reader can follow, and lately they have been the ones about the various scandals afoot in Washington. These are important matters, and provide the amusing spectacle of White House officials flailing about as they deal with the first press scrutiny of their careers, but it is necessary to step back and take note that everything else is also going to hell in a handbasket.
Thursday brought bad economic news, with jobless claims rising and housing starts falling, and provided a reminder that unemployment remains high, growth slow, and the national debt mounting. Such sad statistics will cause the Federal Reserve to keep printing money at the frantic pace that has led to record highs on the stock market, which in turn has led to some strangely happy talk in the few stories that are reported, but other needed economic reforms are unlikely to become a national priority until the inevitable downturn. The sluggishness of the economy was a widely ignored story even before the current scandals began to dominate the news, with everyone in Washington preferring to talk about same-sex marriage or gun control or who was wearing what at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, even though it remains of some interest to the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeing their incomes fall further as prices rise.
It will be briefly noted deep within the pages of the more staid newspapers that the House of Representatives voted once again to repeal Obamacare, and the story doesn’t deserve much more attention given that it will fail once again in the Senate and that it would be vetoed by the president in any case. This means that Obamacare will continue to provide businesses with strong incentives not to offer employees more than 29 hours of work to any employee or to have more than 49 of them around, among its many unfortunate economic effects, but as previously noted that sort of thing is no longer considered newsworthy. Obamacare was more prominently mentioned in reports that the same woman who is at the center of the Internal Revenue Service’s scandalous targeting of conservative groups is now in charge of the agency’s enforcement of the health care law’s numerous tax provisions.
The distraction of the various scandals might provide an opportunity for congress to pass an immigration reform bill that would otherwise provoke greater public resistance. Several politicians in good standings with conservatives are backing a plan proposed in the Senate, and Democratic constituencies such as unions and blacks that have reason to oppose are apparently being kept in line, but there are widespread doubts that the promised border enforcement will ever happen and those distracting scandals do little to inspire trust. Given the fact of the aforementioned millions of Americans who are out of work there is also reason to question the wisdom of bringing even more millions of people into the workforce, but that once again raises those economic subjects that no one seems to want to talk about.
A short White House visit by the Prime Minister of Turkey, who was in town to talk about the deteriorating situation in Syria before heading off on a trip to Gaza that the Americans had asked him not to take, took up just enough of the news to remind readers that pretty much all of the international scene is also dismal. At a rain-soaked news conference the president agreed to increase pressure on the Syrian dictator, although he avoided any further mention of his widely-ridiculed “red line” declarations, and then wound up fending off questions about Benghazi, the IRS, and the Justice Department’s snooping around in the Associated Press’ phone records. No one wants to talk about that foreign policy stuff, either.
On a more positive note, no one wants to talk about whatever it is that the president wants them to talk about. Things have gotten so bad that even The New York Times reports that “Onset of Woes Casts Pall Over Obama’s Policy Aspirations.” The Gray Lady seems to regard this as an unfortunate development, but it might be best that can be said of a bad situation.

— Bud Norman

After the Scandals

Each of the various scandals swirling around Washington are important on their own terms, as well as a source of guilty pleasure to right-wing bastards such as ourselves, but they will also have important implications in the policy squabbles that will continue long after the accusatory headlines have faded.
The Internal Revenue Service’s outrageous targeting of conservative groups, for instance, will now figure in at least two ongoing debates. Advocates of the flat tax, the fair tax, and other simplified tax systems have always claimed their proposals would eliminate the possibility of such politicized IRS actions, among other advantages, and the argument is made stronger by the latest revelations. Critics of the Obamacare law were concerned from the outset about how it grows the size and scope of the IRS, which will be empowered to enforce the controversial individual mandate and its host of new taxes, and those critics will also become more persuasive in their attempts at repeal.
A Justice Department probe that sought a suspiciously broad range of phone records from the Associated Press will affect a broader debate about the media’s peculiar relationship with the government in much the same way. It might even affect the media’s previously adoring perception of the government, potentially having all sorts of ramifications on the next few years of politics, and it might even affect the public’s perception of the much-maligned conservative news sources. Past Justice Department scandals, ranging from the decision to let the New Black Panthers loose on voter intimidation charges and stonewalling the Fast and Furious fiasco, could also be seen in a newly harsh light.
Continuing revelations about the incompetence that led to the Benghazi tragedy and the dishonesty that followed it will similarly inform future discussions of foreign policy. Those who argue for a more frank resistance to radical Islamists, rather than the sort of cultural relativism that would appease them with the imprisonment of anyone who dares criticize their views, will surely be bolstered in their efforts.
The cumulative effect of all the scandals can only create a greater public skepticism about the government’s abilities and integrity, which in turn affects everything. Almost every political issue pits those who would expand the size, scope, and cost of government against those who would limit it to the traditional essential chores of national defense, issuing a sound currency, enforcing contracts, security the liberties of the people, and a few modest attempts at promoting the general welfare. The latter group might not prevail, but they will be energized and the scandals can only help their cause.

— Bud Norman

A Hard Day on the Job

Anyone who has ever endured a tough week on the job can almost, but not quite, feel sorry for Jay Carney.
The boyish White House press secretary has been having an undeniably hard time of it lately, what with his boss suddenly beset by scandals ranging from the multi-layered fiasco of the Benghazi terror attack and its aftermath to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of opposition groups to a Justice Department that has been spying on the Associated Press, and the embarrassing spectacle of Carney flailing about as he struggles to provide a plausible explanation for all of it would ordinarily induce pity in a sympathetic soul. Even so, Carney is more to be scorned than pitied because he is so obviously out of practice.
At Tuesday’s news briefing Carney was aggressively grilled by the assembled reporters about all of the aforementioned issues, and the poor fellow seemed quite taken aback that anyone in the media would be guilty of such brazen lese majesty as to ask a question at a press conference. His surprise is somewhat understandable, given the polite behavior of the press during such past scandals as the New Black Panthers’ kid-glove treatment, Solyndra and other “green job” boondoggles, Fast and Furious, the presidenlavish lifestyle, and assorted failures such as the stimulus and the broken promises of Obamacare, but Carney should have foreseen that those reporters’ instinctive pugnaciousness would eventually assert itself. The press still isn’t nearly so adversarial as it has been during Republican administrations, but on Tuesday they at least stopped being obsequious.
In a previous week’s news conference Carney had insisted that the scrubbing of any mention of an al-Qaeda terror from the government’s official explanation of the Benghazi attack and substituting some fanciful nonsense about a spontaneous popular reaction a little-seen YouTube video was only a “stylistic” and “not substantive” change, but the reporters on Tuesday were stubbornly cynical about the claim. Even such stalwart supporters as The New Yorker and The Washington Post are starting to treat Benghazi as a story that reflects poorly on the administration, and Carney had a rather stunned look on his face when the reporters were so unenthused about his denunciations of the Republicans for taking an interest in the death of an ambassador and four other Americans.
The same rudeness attended the matter of the IRS harassment of conservative groups, which has offended civil libertarian sensibilities to the point that some news media have been using the N-word — Nixon — to describe the scandal. Carney gamely insisted that he and his boss were also appalled that an agency under executive branch control would do such nasty things to groups that the president had vilified in countless speeches. Although the press wasn’t so ravenous as it was about George W. Bush’s 30-year-old National Guard attendance records, it was more than inquisitive enough to rattle Carney. He boldly asserted that the White House had nothing to do with the scandal, but added that all he or the president knew was what they read in the papers. A reporter from the Bloomberg news service, of all places, asked how Carney could be so certain of the White House’s innocence if he didn’t know any more than what was being reported, and Carney responded with a flustered “I think I can say that I feel confident in that, but, I you know, I don’t have any.”
Harsher questions were asked about the Justice Department’s snooping around the phone records of the Associated Press, an action that everyone in the press is taking personally. The press has been badly mistreated for many years by the Obama administration, which has kicked reporters off airplanes for insufficiently enthusiastic editorials in their papers, denied access on an unprecedented scale, stonewalled investigations into various matters, and even kept a reporter in a closet during a vice presidential appearance, but the assault on AP seems to have at last caused a rift in the longstanding love affair between the president and the press. More respectful treatment might be accorded at the next presidential news conference, which might be many healing months away, but the reporters had no reluctance to beat up on Carney over the matter. Unaccustomed to such treatment, Carney wound up using the word “unfettered” a dozen times when explaining the president’s commitment to a free press.
The president’s high opinion of a free press is likely based on an assumption that it would it always sing his praises, and it remains to be seen if he will be as tolerate when the press is critical. Those reporters might fall back in line if it appears that efforts are redounding to the benefit of the Republican party, but in the meantime Jay Carney should get used to working for a living.

— Bud Norman

A Civic Chore

Life is full of rude awakenings, but few are so cruelly impolite as being forced out of a perfectly comfortable bed at 7:30 a.m. in order to report for jury duty. Being so very civic-minded we nonetheless roused ourselves at that unfamiliar moment of the morning on Monday and presented ourselves for service at the Sedgwick County Courthouse by the mandated time of 8:30 a.m., bleary-eyed and brain-cloudy despite two cups of coffee, and proceeded to do our patriotic duty by somehow staying awake through a cheesy informational video and an interminable wait to be tossed into a jury pool along with 47 of our randomly-selected fellow citizens. Justice surely cannot be properly administered at such an ungodly hour of the morning, we mused as the hours ticked slowly by, but ours is not to question the peculiar workings of the American court system.
The judge admonished all the potential jurors not to discuss the case, and we will heed his order even though we are unlikely to wind up on a jury, as we are the obviously opinionated sorts that the attorneys with the weaker case are always quick to discard, but in any event at this point we know nothing of the case worth discussing. We mention the early morning ordeal only by way of explaining the scantiness of today’s report. Jury duty has not only jarred us from the nocturnal writing rhythm that typically propels our pen to the high standards of this publication, it also deprived of the usual afternoon’s slog through the news in order to find something to rant about. On our drive home for a brief lunchtime nap we heard a few minutes of Rush Limbaugh, who seemed quite agitated about something or another, but otherwise we spent the day frustratingly out of touch with the world’s events.
Nine hours of waiting around the courthouse reading an old P.G. Wodehouse novel in between listening to our pool mates answer questions about their marital status and the ages of their children left us exhausted, but upon returning home we somehow summoned the energy for a quick glance at the always-intriguing headlines on The Drudge Report. There were more outrageous details about the Internal Revenue Service’s systematic harassment of conservative activist groups, a story that had already outraged us, and a new tale that the government has also been snooping through the phone records of the Associated Press. The government’s animus toward the tea party is easily explained, as these groups as so extremist they would severely limit the government to a size that taxpayers are willing to fund, but we could not readily discern why the government would take such an untoward interest in the phone conversations of such reliable defenders as the Associated Press. It’s like the occasional stories of Great Britain or Israel spying on the United States, or at least like it used to be back when we had strong alliances with those countries, and it will be interesting to see how the story plays out. The Associated Press dispatch about the scandal seem understandably miffed, and if this signals the end of a beautiful relationship we suspect the government agents responsible will eventually regret their actions.
Depending on events we might be back to our usual routine by Wednesday, and we hope you will bear with us in the meantime. The news doesn’t always imbue a sense of civic responsibility, but we will press on.

— Bud Norman