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Just Another Manic Tuesday

The most important story on a Tuesday full of big stories was President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s pulling America out of the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing the preexisting economic sanctions and threatening even more, but given all the juicier stuff it’s the one we least want to write about.
The Iran story is damned complicated, and we have decidedly mixed opinions about it. Trump’s critique of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that President Barack Obama and his equally inept Secretary of State John Kerry and our Pollyanna-ish European allies cooked up is quite valid, and includes all the gripes we more eloquently articulated at the time the deal went down. Under the deal Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship is free to continue developing long-range missiles, funding the mischief of various crazed theocratic terrorist group and helping out some secular but just as troublesome dictatorships in the Middle East, there’s an expiration date that allows them to get nuclear weapons,. The notoriously tough deal-maker Trump is also right to note that these galling concessions were made at a time when strict international sanctions had brought the Iran’s economy to its knees and its crazed theocratic dictatorship to the negotiating table.
At this strange point in time, though, it’s not at all clear that pulling out of the hated JCPOA is going to result in a better deal. It took strict international sanctions to get Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship to agree to abandon its nuclear bomb development program, and to allow international inspections to verify their compliance, and this time around our European allies made clear they’re in no mood to reimpose sanctions and limit their oil supplies just to appease an American president who is threatening to wage trade wars with them and is quite unpopular with their constituents. Already the crazed theocratic dictatorship in Iran is rightly noting that America’s withdrawal from the deal frees them to resume their nuclear bomb development, Trump is warning that if they do so they’ll have “problems like they’ve never had before,” and carrying out any of either side’s threats will be ugly even in the best of all possible outcomes. There’s also no telling how this might affect the nuclear deal that Trump is trying to negotiate with the crazed dictatorship in North Korea, which isn’t quite so crazed that it hasn’t noticed how America keeps to to its negotiated agreements.
No matter how that all works out, there were a couple of domestic stores that Trump might eventually wish he hadn’t pushed to below the newspaper fold.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a hero of the Democratic party’s recent crusade against sexual harassment and a legal nemesis of Trump since his successful lawsuit against Trump University, was forced to resign shortly after The New Yorker published a report about two named women and an unnamed third one who offered medical records and other convincing evidence to back up their eerily similar accounts of Schneiderman’s shocking-even-by-current-standards sexual abuse. As he resigned Schneiderman offered the explanation that it had all been “role play,” like in that “Fifty Shades of Grey” that was a best-selling novel and hit movie in these strange times, but at this moment in the Democratic party’s righteous crusade against sexual harassment that couldn’t keep him his job.
Donald Trump Jr. spent much of Tuesday “tweeting” his schadenfreude about Schneiderman, but to borrow an old metaphor he was hurling his stones from the very glass house of Trump. Trump Jr.’s pop still has a defamation lawsuit in the courts by one of the many women he’s accused of lying about his own ungentlemanly behavior, which he was caught bragging about on that “Hollywood Access” tape, not to mention all that mess about the porno star he’s now forced to admit he paid to shut up about an alleged trysts. We’ve also noticed that these constant sex monster scandals seem to involve both left and right types, so there’s no telling which Republican moralist will be next.
Trump and every other Republican can also be glad that Don Blankenship didn’t win the Republican party’s Senate nomination in West Virginia. Blankenship is the coal mining executive who spent in a year in federal prison for worker safety violations that resulted in the deaths of 29 coal miners, called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaged his “China person” wife and her “China family,” wound up talking about “West Virginia persons” and “negroes” in his convoluted explanations, and aptly described himself as “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship was too Trumpy even for Trump, who “tweeted” his advice that West Virginia candidates vote against him not because of his deadly felonies or unabashed racism but rather because he “can’t win.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wound up winning with a plurality, despite being the sort of boring establishment type of Republican we used to like voting for. He spared the party the sort of embarrassment it suffered when the unabashedly theocratic and credibly accused child molester and Trump-endorsed Roy Moore somehow lost a Senate seat in Alabama of all places, but it remains to bee seen if he can knock off Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as stalwart for coal mining as any Republican and pretty darned Trumpy himself.
There was another intriguing story that Trump is surely glad he knocked off the top of the front pages and the top of the hour on the cable news, where the hush money payment to the porno performer and that whole “Russia thing” have collided. It’s now reported that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who admittedly arranged the $130,000 hush money payment to the aforementioned porno performer, which yet another Trump attorney now admits the president eventually paid, and whose office and home and hotel room were recently searched the by the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York office, and shortly after the election was also paid a half-million bucks by a Russian firm run by a Russian with close ties to the Russian dictatorship. It’s also reported he had a similar payment from the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which was hoping to get federal approval from a controversial deal that would result in its ownership of Trump’s nemeses at the Cable News Network.
There might yet be a perfectly reasonably and entirely exculpatory explanation for all this, but so far neither Trump nor any of his attorneys have provided one. We can only hope Trump’s instinct prove sounder in negotiating that North Korean nuclear deal and renegotiating the one with Iran.
And that was just Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

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An Awful Deal Gets More Awful Yet

You might have forgotten about that awful deal that President Barack Obama struck last year with Iran’s apocalyptic suicide cult of a government over its nuclear weapons program, as Donald J. Trump hasn’t “tweeted” anything about it lately, but along with all the other things to worry about it continues to get more awful by the day.
Iran conducted yet another inter-continental ballistic missile test yesterday, launching a couple of Koranic-named rockets inscribed with “Israel should be wiped off the earth,” but we are assured this is no big deal. While the administration’s spokesmen will state with requisite diplomacy that the tests are “provocative,” they quickly add that such acts do not violate the terms of their deal, which seems to us to prove how very awful that deal is. The International Atomic Energy Agency won’t say that Iran is in violation of any international agreements, then quickly adds that the side agreements they agreed to with both the United States and Iran forbid them from revealing any Iranian violations of whatever was more-or-less agreed upon but not actually signed by anybody, which to us seems to make the more-or-less deal seem even more awful yet. Throw in that $150 billion that Iran is getting out out the deal, and the current Secretary of State’s under-oath admission that some of it’s going into Iran’s ongoing terrorist networks, and his complaint during the last round of missile tests that “they’re not supposed to be doing that,” and one shudders to think how very apocalyptically this might all turn out.
The deal was supposed to be Obama’s foreign policy legacy, just as his Obamacare legislation was supposed to be what he would be remembered for on the domestic side, and to his and the country’s and the entire world’s misfortune both suppositions will likely prove true. We were promised that the deal would verifiably prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons or the inter-continental ballistic missiles that make them especially dangerous and would quell that nation’s religious supremacist bellicosity, just as we were promised that everyone would have health coverage and everyone’s health care costs would go down by an average of $2,500 a year, but instead Iran seems to be building inter-continental missiles that are really only useful delivering nuclear warheads for some reason or another that the IAEA can’t comment on and the “death to America” rhetoric has lately seemed ramped up and the potential consequences make a couple-grand-and-a-half seem insignificant and the prospects of health care for everyone remote. As we contemplate our sorry choices for a successor to Obama, it is worth remembering how very awful he has been.
Even the sorry choices we choose from are likely to do better, as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and corrupt foundation-scammer Hillary Clinton is arguing for renewed sanctions and can plausibly point to current Secretary of State John Kerry as proof that she’s only the second-worst Secretary of State ever, and rival self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spent some time on a Stalinist kibbutz in Israel and might have some reluctance to let it be wiped off the earth, and of course the Republicans are taking a stronger stand, although the front-runner has lately been talking about neutrality toward Israel and seems to regard the whole Middle East as another real-estate deal where Israel might wind up the poor widow with the house where he wants to build a parking lot for his casino. More hopefully, Iran itself might yet save us from this awful deal.
The Iranian government has lately been gloating that it never did sign anything with the Great Satan, by which they don’t mean just Obama, but the rest of us as well, and that if the United States considers tests of inter-continental missiles named for Koranic verses and inscribed with the slogan “Israel should be wiped off the earth” so much as “provocative” they might just walk away. The Obama administration would likely go running after them with further concessions to make the deal even more awful, if possible, but if the Iranians play it out long enough for a long-shot scenario to develop on our awful political scene there might be some hope.

— Bud Norman

The Climate for Satire

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

— Bud Norman

Radical Islam By Any Other Name

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet,” William Shakespeare once wrote, but he’s just another dead white male that nobody bothers to read these days. Modern liberals believe that words do indeed have magical powers that can alter whatever reality they are intended to describe. Thus a man can become a woman with a simple change of pronouns, a university can erase its long-ago racism with a few more up-to-date names on some buildings, the problem of illegal immigrants can be made to disappear simply by calling the millions of people who have immigrated here illegally by some more polite name, such as “undocumented Americans” or “dreamers,” and the latest euphemisms can imbue all manner of malodorous things with that sweet fragrance of moral superiority that keeps the modern liberals’ noses constantly upturned.
The latest problem to get this mystical linguistic treatment is radical Islam, which we are now assured does not exist. Although the semantic shamans won’t go so far as to pretend that terrorist attacks haven’t been occurring all over the world with increasing frequency and savagery in the past decades, and that there’s usually someone with a Muslim name shouting “Allahu Akbar” at the scene and a group calling itself something Islamic claiming credit,  they will go so far as to pretend that anyone who draws the intuitive conclusion that the Religion of Peace has anything to do with it is just a nasty old bigot. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to the staff of the American embassy in France just days after somebody or another shot up six sites in Paris for some reason or another, insists that “It has nothing to do with Islam. It has everything to do with criminality, with terror, with abuse, with psychopathism — I mean, you name it.” So long as you don’t name it Islam, of course, Kerry is content to deal with the problem on whatever convoluted language and new coinages you might prefer. His predecessor at the State Department, the supposedly presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, speaking just hours before some terror group or another for some reason or another killed all the hostages at a Mali hotel who could not recite verses from the Koran, went further to insist that “Muslims are peace and tolerant people who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” Clinton was so proud of the statement that she “tweeted” it out to her followers, a surprising number of whom responded with scathing criticism, and the Democratic Party has already released an internet advertisement criticizing the Republican’s repeated use of “radical Islam” that features the formerly vilified George W. Bush saying that Islam is a Religion of Peace and we’re not at war with a religion and all the obligatory boilerplate that he never got any credit for back in the day.
So long as the shootings and bombings and stabbings and beheadings and crucifixions continue one will have to call it something, though, and Clinton has chosen to call it “jihadism.” It’s better than “psychopathism,” we suppose, but we can’t see how it’s a more politically correct term than “radical Islam.” Our big old Random House dictionary doesn’t have an entry for jihadism, but it does define jihad as “a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims,” and our 13 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary are so old they offer the alternative spellings of jehad and jahad and define it as “A religious war of Mohammedans against unbelievers in Islam, inculcated as a duty by Koran and traditions,” and pretty much every etymologist will tell you that it’s a term having something to do with Islam. The more respectful but less precise lexicographers like to define jihad as a peaceful struggle to better one’s self, and for some reason they usually cite quitting smoking as an example, but even Clinton seems to have given up on that. The terror group calling itself Islamic Jihad, and the proudly self-proclaimed jihadists doing all the shooting and bombing and stabbings and beheadings and crucifixions, and such widely respected-within-the-Islamic-world scholars as the late Ayatollah Khomeini saying “I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim” that jihad does not mean a more literal war against the unbelievers has given the word a certain connotation that cannot be easily shaken, no matter how many well-intentioned Turks start laying off the hookah.
There are subtle and nuanced arguments to avoid the words “radical Islam,” as are required for such difficult sophistry. The gist of it is that by acknowledging the Islamic beliefs of the people we are obliged to fight and kill we signal to the entire Islamic world that we are at war with the entire religion, forcing all those more peaceful and tolerant Muslims who otherwise would be disinclined to shoot and bomb and behead and all that to join with their more belligerent co-religionists. This seems at least slightly plausible, given that all those peaceful warriors are probably already suffering the crankiness of nicotine withdrawal, but even the Democratic Party’s internet advertisements explicitly acknowledge that America’s leadership has always stressed how the country and its allies are only at war with those particular sorts of Muslims who are avowedly and actively and often effectively at war against us, and even such right-wing crazies as the Republican presidential candidates and ourselves are always careful to affix that “radical” qualifier to make the same point, so by now all those peaceful Muslims should be reassured. The term “radical Islam” does include the “I-word,” but we’re all adults here and might as well acknowledge the obvious fact the terrorists are acting in strict accordance with a very ancient and still widely-held understanding of Islam’s holy book, and surely those peaceful Muslims will frankly acknowledge the current struggle does indeed involve the more radical elements of their religion. One can argue that no true Muslim wants war, because Islam is a Religion of Peace, just as one can argue that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge, because any one that did is no true Scotsman, but it’s still a fallacy and you’re still left with a large number of people who want to kill you in the name of Islam and don’t care how painstakingly polite you’ve been to the religion that you insist they don’t practice, and we suspect that by this point even some of the most peaceable sorts of Muslims are probably starting to contemplate which side is more likely to prevail.
Our reading of history suggests that the side with the high-tech weaponry and most modern scientific know-how is usually a good bet, but the side that knows what it’s fighting for and who it’s fighting against is often a formidable underdog. In the current conflict our side is fighting with itself over proper protocol for transgendered persons and that building named after a guy who built it but who owned slaves long ago and what to call all those immigrants who are here illegally, and we refuse to acknowledge that we’re fighting at against the same radical ideology that has been intermittently at war with the west for the past 1,400 years, long before there was western imperialism and Israel and George W. Bush and all the other usual exculpatory grievances, and which has always claimed to be Islamic. When a former Secretary of State and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is reduced that to claiming that it is merely “jihad” and therefore has nothing to do with Islam, it’s a good time for hedging bets.
If this all sounds too war-mongering and xenophobic and Islamophobic to your ears, we’ll happily recite all the rote assurances about the vast majority of the world’s Muslims being peaceful and tolerant and disinclined to chop off your head and take your daughter as a sex slave. We wish them well, and assume they wish us well in our efforts to defeat those who are committing atrocities in their name. People being people, though, we assume that there are some among the presently peaceable Muslims who are waiting to see how it plays out. Every strain of Islam has always found itself in conflict with some aspects of western civilization, and although most Muslims in the western world have found a peaceable and tolerant accommodation there are many who wouldn’t mind if the west were a little more accommodating itself. In some cases they might be making reasonable requests, in other cases intolerable demands, but Kerry and Clinton and all the political correctness in the world won’t keep them from contemplating a Muslim world. President Barack Obama contends that the Republican rhetoric about radical Islam is a recruiting tool for the terrorists, but the better recruiting tool for a potential pool of new jihadists is the string of victories they’ve lately racked up.
Clinton and her two rivals have both sworn off the term “radical Islam,” and of course the party itself is rallying to the cause with that internet advertisement, but it’s going to be a tough sale. The polls show the public unimpressed, even the vulgar late night comedian and usually reliable Democratic pitchman Bill Maher is scoffing at it, and thus far the biggest political beneficiary is the one candidate who doesn’t seem to care how war-mongering and xenophobic and Islamophobic he sounds. The magic words about men being women and Woodrow Wilson never having been president of Princeton University and illegal immigrants being dreamers aren’t polling well, and we don’t expect they’re going to win a war.

— Bud Norman

A Clinton Scandal That Somehow Matters

After all the scandals the Clintons have survived, it’s been interesting to see that the latest mess regarding Hillary Clinton’s e-mails seems to be doing real damage to her presidential campaign. The press has been brutal, even if it is still polite enough to describe the scandal as being about her e-mail server rather than her, and ever since the story broke her poll numbers have been plummeting. Which leads one to wonder why this particular scandal is so much more damaging than all the others.
It is a serious matter, of course, with her use of a private rather than government e-mail system being apparently in violation of law, likely jeopardizing national security by allowing top-secret information to be easily obtained by hostile foreign governments, and the only plausible explanation being her desire to keep her public acts from public scrutiny, but all those other scandals that the Clintons somehow survived were also serious matters. Going all the way back to her early days in the public eye there was the suspicious killing she made in the cattle futures market, the White House travel office scandal, where Hillary Clinton trumped up criminal charges against an obviously innocent public servant in order to enrich some Hollywood pals, those subpoenaed Rose Law Firm records that ultimately turned up in her closet, her delusional claim that the rumors of her husband’s infidelity were a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and her war on the women who insisted otherwise. Her brief time as a Senator was largely untainted by scandal but not marked by any significant accomplishments, and her inglorious tenure as Secretary of State involved suspicious donations to her family’s suspicious charity by suspicious foreign governments and a disastrous Libyan war that wound up with four Americans dead in a terror attack that she falsely blamed on an obscure filmmaker who wound in prison for exercising his First Amendment rights. Why a hard-to-follow story about her e-mail accounts should be more damaging is hard to explain.
Our guess is that it’s the proverbial straw the broke the camel’s back, the story that at long last confirmed all the suspicions that had accumulated over the past 25 years of previously underplayed scandals, and an excuse for anxious Democrats to start seeking more electable alternatives. So far the best they can come up with is Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Al Gore, present Vice President Joe Biden, and there’s even talk of past failed nominee and current Secretary of State John Kerry, who is responsible for that Iran nuclear bomb deal that ever sensible American hates, but that only demonstrates how very damaged the Clinton candidacy is. The press might relent once it realizes that the Clinton campaign is still well positioned to win the Democratic nomination, but until then we expect they’ll continue to pile on an Clinton’s poll numbers will continue to plummet.

— Bud Norman

Break a Leg, John

We have tried our best to resist adding insult to Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent injury, despite how invitingly ridiculous it is for a 71-year-old diplomat to break his leg on a bicycle ride and how very silly he looked in that sissified Tour de France outfit he was wearing, but reading about his extravagant return home makes the temptation overwhelming.
It’s the sort of thing the American press is politely incurious about, but the cheekier Fleet Street fellows at Britain’s Daily Mail had the admirable lese majeste  to report that Kerry was helicoptered from the hospital where he received initial treatment to the Geneva airport and then flown to Boston for further care on a massive C-17 military transport plane intended for deploying up to 100 troops to war zones. A full medical team accompanied Kerry on his bike ride, the care he received at the Geneva hospital was by his own account first-rate, that full medical team also flew along with him on the plane ride home, presumably with plenty of room to administer whatever additional medical magic a broken leg might require along the way, one can expect that the attention currently being paid in that Boston hospital will surpass what the typical Obamacare health plan provides, and a broken leg, even such a spindly one as Kerry’s, isn’t really that big of a deal, so we expect he will soon be up and limping about and back at the hard work of letting Iran’s mad mullahs acquire a nuclear weapon and railing about those dastardly Republicans’ niggardly budget cuts. We suppose it’s our patriotic duty and Christian obligation to hope so, and we’ll  try to do our best in that regard as well, but still, everything about it seems gallingly excessive.
Most organizations finding themselves $18 trillion in debt would start looking over their employees’ expense account reports with a meticulously stingy eye, but the federal government is apparently an exception to this rule. We clearly remember how a major national newspaper chain once scrutinized every turnpike toll and other slight line item from our occasional trips to Topeka to cover some stupefyingly boring legislative hearing, even in the cash-flush days before the internet, and how the shrinking profit margins of the modern age eventually subjected even the executive editors and publishers to the same corporate parsimony, so we are amused to think of the apoplexy that would have resulted down in accounting if we’d ever handed over the kind of bill that Kerry will turn in from his bike ride. One can reasonably argue that a Secretary of State, even such a spindly one as Kerry, deserves greater consideration than any ink-stained scribe, or even executive editors and publishers and other white-collar big-wigs, but the difference between a personal C-17 and a coach seat on a crowded commercial flight, complete with the indignities that an average wheelchair-bound executive would surely endure at the security gate, seems shockingly wide. Kerry is a prominent member of the party that is constantly going on about economic inequality and carbon footprints, and claiming to be the champions of the common coach-flying folk, so surely the public has a right to expect something slightly less ostentatious and expensive.
As long as we’re succumbing to the temptation to gripe about that, we might as well further note how ridiculous it is for a 71-year-old diplomat to break his leg on a bicycle ride, and how very silly Kerry looked in that sissified Tour de France outfit he was wearing. The now-famous ride was along a stretch of the Tour de France route, with Kerry in his pretentious gear and pedaling some expensive-looking bicycle, with not only his medical team and security detail and unaccountably large entourage along but also a throng of American and European media eager to seize the photo opportunity to show Kerry as a still robust and macho Secretary of State, and although he was on a flat and straight and short bit of the Alps, peddling along at a 71-year-old’s leisurely pace, the ensuing riot of adoring photographers and attentive medical care and watchful security and unaccountable hangers-on caused him to crash and break one of the legs that the cameras had already embarrassingly captured as spindly and covered with a spandex layer of a sissified Tour de France outfit. Despite our patriotic duty and Christian obligations, we find this high comedy, except for the part about how this spindly and sissified and extravagantly silly guy is in charge of America’s foreign policy.

— Bud Norman

The Unbearable Opaqueness of Transparency

Secretary of State John Kerry recently told Congress “don’t believe what you read” about his negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons, which is reassuring given what we’ve been reading from such news sources as the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal about the deal he is offering, but he also told them that “I’m not going in to what is or isn’t the situation,” which is not at all reassuring. The Obama administration promised to be “the most transparent” in history, but prefers that the public not bother itself with any details about what is or isn’t the situation.
There’s much the public needs to know about the “net neutrality” regulations that the Federal Communications Commissions is cooking up for the internet, and a congressional hearing would be a good place to have the public’s representatives ask of some of the many pertinent questions, but the FCC’s chairman has declined an invitation to provide any answers in advance of today’s vote by his agency. The administration has been similarly reluctant to divulge information on scandals ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme to the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups, or even such seemingly inconsequential matters of interest as the president’s educational and medical and travel records, and it seems quite confident that the public would rather not know what is or isn’t the situation. This confidence may well be justified, based on the past many years of incurious press coverage, but we are the nosy sorts who would rather know what’s going on no matter how grim it might be.
Those numerous press reports that the administration is offering Iran nuclear weapons after ten years of phased-out sanctions seem unsettlingly plausible, given the administration’s past foreign policy, and if they are entirely untrue we’d be delighted to hear someone in a position of authority at the Department of State come right out and say so. Some reassurance that the administration remains committed to its stated goal of denying Iran nuclear weapons would be nice, too, but apparently we’ll have to assume the best about whether that is or isn’t the situation. The right is concerned that the “net neutrality” rules will hand over the internet to international control and beyond the protections of First Amendment, the more principled and practical elements of the left are worried about what a Republican administration might do with the power being claimed by the federal government, and it would also be good to hear someone in a position of responsibility at the FCC put those concerns convincingly to rest, but once again we’ll have to take it on faith. Our faith would be bolstered by some believable answers about Fast and Furious and the IRS and the mysteriously missing chapters of the president’s biography, but by now we sadly accept that too much of the rest of the public is uninterested.
Iranian bombs and the internet and the Internal Revenue Service are not matters inconsequential the public’s interest, however, and sooner or later some attention will be paid. We hope its not when the Iranian bomb goes off in Tel Aviv or some European or North American capital, and that we’ll still be able to register our disapproval on the internet, and that our opinions won’t run afoul of the IRS, but that might or might not be the situation.

— Bud Norman

With Friends Like This

Much ridicule has already been heaped on Secretary of State John Kerry for having James Taylor sing “You’ve Got a Friend” to the French last week, but we feel obliged to add a bit more. Not since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered that apologetic misspelled “reset” button to the rapacious Russkies has American foreign policy been so embarrassing.
It’s not just that Taylor’s folky schtick was sappy even when it was popular way back in the ’70s, or that “You’ve Got a Friend” was just about the sappiest of it, but that the gesture was intended as an apology for the United States’ even more embarrassing failure to send a high-ranking figure to France’s march on behalf of freedom of speech in the wake of a murderous attack by radical Islamist terrorists against a satirical magazine that had published cartoons critical of radical Islamism. While the heads of state of every other significant country felt obliged to make the trip, America was represented at the march by its ambassador the country, a former campaign bundler for the Obama presidential campaigns, despite the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder was conveniently in Paris at the time, Vice President Joe Biden’s schedule was of course open, and the security concerns that were cited to explain the president’s absence didn’t keep Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a spot at the lead of the march. The international and domestic criticism was so withering that the White House spokesman acknowledged the mistake, and Kerry and his guitar-strumming buddy from Martha’s Vineyard were dispatched to make amends.
Compounding the embarrassment even further was the obvious insincerity of the performance. The same president that declared to the United Nations in the aftermath of a terror attack on an American consulate in Benghazi that was falsely blamed on an obscure YouTube video critical of Islamism that “The future must not belong to those who slander that prophet of Islam” was never to going to march on behalf of the right to freely express opinions regarding religion. As France musters some uncharacteristic courage to confront the Islamist threat it has unwisely welcomed, it will take more than a washed-up folk-rocker to convince them they have a friend in the United States for at least the next two years.
Even James Taylor and John Kerry aren’t as embarrassing as that sad fact.

— Bud Norman

Dr. Strangelove Goes to Iran

The Associated Press has filed a report on the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and it’s a remarkable piece of work. Rarely will you see so much partisan political spin packed into so few column inches. Headlined “US faces last best chance on Iran nuke deal,” the ostensibly objective article depicts heroic efforts by the administration to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb “before skeptical Republicans who will control Congress next year can scuttle it.” There’s not a bit of skepticism on the part of the Associated Press about the proposed deal, which we are told “would deliver a foreign policy triumph for the White House,” so the reader is left to surmise that those dastardly Republicans would rather imperil world peace than allow the president a political victory.
This will be the official version of the story, as well, but only for so long as it suits official purposes. The article helpfully explains that the administration is hoping that its soaring rhetoric and charming nature will have fully pacified Iran after 35 years of its relentless belligerence by Nov. 24, because that’s when an agreed-upon “deadline” for negotiations occurs, but given the flexible nature of diplomacy and the administration’s disregard for deadlines in presenting its legally-required budget proposals or implementing Obamacare the authors don’t bother to deny that the real cut-off date in the negotiations coincides with the installation of a Republican Senate majority on the third of January. Until then, the White House will be counting on such sympathetic press coverage to sell the idea that whatever it gets out of its many months of desperate pleading is some sort of deus ex machina that must be ratified by a lame duck Senate right this very moment before Republican skullduggery or some other pesky sort of public scrutiny blows the historic opportunity for a lasting peace with the Islamic Republic.
Afterwards, though, the official version of the story will likely be that we should learn to stop worrying and love the Iranian bomb. The president’s apologetic public pronouncements and private correspondence to the Iranian regime have been met with rhetoric more contemptuous that anything even the most “tea party” Republican muster, the Iranians seem to have figured out that the threatened sanctions only last until they agree to continue the endless negotiations, there is no worry that the administration will support any popular uprising that might result from the country’s economic woes, America clearly poses no military threat to the regime for at least the next two years, administration officials have boasted of restraining an Israeli threat and would clearly intervene against any threats by the Sunni and Arab nations who feel threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, so it’s hard to see why the Iranians would suddenly be inclined to cut a deal favorable to the interests of the Great Satan. Nor is there any reason to believe the Iranians can be trusted to follow through on any concessions they might make, as their long history has apparently continued right through the last round of negotiations. Nor is there any reason to believe that the administration really cares what happens after a deal is reached so long as they can get one in time for the Associated Press and like-minded media to proclaim it a foreign policy triumph.
The president continues to insist that “Our number one priority with respect to Iran is making sure they don’t get a nuclear weapon,” and is quoted saying so without any apparent skepticism in all the stories, but the position is never fully explained. He’s already acceded the Iranian regime the right to enrich uranium and pursue a civilian nuclear program in its oil-rich country, apologized for America’s alleged misdeeds against the Islamic Republic, carefully avoided any mention of Iran’s many misdeeds against America, declared to the assembled United Nations that no nation has the right to dictate to another, saved his administration’s foul-mouthed insults and dictates about housing policy and other internal matters for Israel, so it’s hard to imagine his rationale for denying one of the wretched of the earth a mere nuclear bomb or two. He’s also failed to explain exactly what America will do about it if the Iranians persist in building a nuclear weapon, and we have no confidence the Iranians are cowed by the prospect of a more sternly worded speech.
Any deal that emerges from this hurried mess of dealing from weakness will warrant far more skepticism than the Associated Press can muster. and should be subject to a sufficient period of public deliberation. Iran must promise a complete halt to all of nuclear weapons research and development, completely reliable verification systems must be established, a threat of force if all conditions are not met must be included, and some explanation for why such an inexplicable breakthrough has occurred other than the irresistible appeal of Secretary of State John Kerry must be offered. Otherwise, we’re siding with those dastardly Republicans who would rather imperil world peace than allow the president a political victory.

— Bud Norman

Of Metal Detectors and Failed Policies

Secretary of State John Kerry was subjected to a metal detector before seeing the Egyptian President and military dictator General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday, just like any schlub trying to pay a parking ticket at Wichita City Hall. Some lingering sense of patriotic pride is offended by the obviously deliberate insult to America’s highest-ranking diplomat, but when America’s highest-ranking diplomat is John Kerry it seems almost appropriate.
One labors mightily to imagine any previous Secretary of State being subjected to such taunting treatment, much less accepting it from the military dictator of a second-rate power with an apologetic “tweet” instead of a vigorous protest, but so much of America’s recent foreign policy is unprecedented that nothing really surprises any more. Kerry’s stop in inconsiderate Cairo was part of a trip to the Middle East to attempt negotiation of a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas terror gang of Gaza, and nothing about it makes sense. The mission is unlikely to succeed, would be harmful to the region’s chances of lasting peace if it did, and will further weaken America’s standing the world in the process.
The Hamas terror gang, which makes no secret of its genocidal intentions toward world Jewry, has lately been murdering Israeli teenagers and launching thousands of deadly rockets randomly into Israeli territory. Israel has been able to keep its civilian casualties low by use of its remarkable “Iron Dome” missile defense system, but has responded by striking carefully targeted retaliatory strikes at the launch sites after warning the civilian to evacuate the areas, and has more recently launched a ground assault under unusually strict rules of engagement against the elaborate network of tunnels that Hamas has created since Israel’s evacuation of Gaza. Any previous Secretary of State would have ventured to the region only to offer unequivocal support for Israel’s restrained response, and urge that it continue until Hamas’ ability to kill innocent Israeli civilians had been thoroughly degraded, but Kerry is heading there to urge further restraint and end Israel’s efforts before they are satisfactorily concluded.
The effort also takes Kerry though Egypt, where his rude reception was predictable after America’s flailing foreign policy regarding that troubled land. Readers who have been sufficiently distracted by that homosexual football player and that racist basketball team owner can be forgiven for having forgotten, but President Barack Obama launched America’s bold new foreign policy in the Middle East by flying to Cairo for a much-ballyhooed speech offering an olive branch to the Islamic and insulted the then President and military-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak by insisting that the radical Islamist group The Muslim Brotherhood be given a seat of honor at the front of the audience. There’s no telling what Obama’s oration had to do with it, but a popular uprising backed by the Obama administration toppled Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood briefly seized power in the country. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule predictably proved devastating to the country’s economy and freedom the Obama administration continued to back it with both words and money, even after a military dictatorship that reverted to support for Israel and opposition to Islamist radicalism reasserted itself. Despite its many flaws, being a military dictatorship chief among them, the Egyptian military dictatorship has been laudably firm against a Hamas terror gang that is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it cannot be expected to extend the usual diplomatic protocols to a Secretary of State that represents America’s recent peculiar policies.
Kerry can expect more polite treatment from the Israelis on his next stop, but he shouldn’t expect them to take him any more seriously. The administration has been making all the obligatory statements about Israel’s right to defend itself against a terror gang that rains down rockets on its people, but the Israelis are savvy enough to have noticed all the added language about restraint and all the other code words for capitulation. Despite their extraordinary efforts to prevent civilian casualties even at the risk of Israeli soldiers, the Israelis are no doubt well aware that Kerry was overheard during a broadcast on the Fox News network sneering that their response was “A hell of a pinpoint operation.” The official line was that it the outburst was entirely inadvertent, as if such an experienced hand as Kerry would let loose in front of the microphones and cameras of the hated Fox News network, but in any case it is clear that he expects the Israelis to be even more restrained in their response to the thousands of rockets being lobbed into their country. They’ll also note that the Obama administration continues its generous subsidies to the Gaza government, even after the Hamas terror gang joined it as a partner, and that Kerry blamed the israelis for making his unlikely peace treaty “go poof” after Hamas become involved, and they could also be forgiven for subjecting him to a humiliating step through a metal detector.
Kerry might well claim that he’s going by that “international test” that he so ruinously proposed during his ill-fated presidential campaign, but at the moment he’s lagging well behind international opinion. Such fashionable western powers as France have expressed stronger support for Israel’s right to self-defense, and the kristallnacht-like rioting against the local Jewish populations seems only to have strengthened its resolve, and even the Sunni Arab countries are all offering off-the-record support for Israel’s against a terror gang backed by the Shi’ite Persian country of Iran that is cruising without meaningful American interference toward a nuclear bomb that will forever change the precarious balance of power in their powder keg regions.
None of these threatened countries will be reassured by America’s less-than-stalwart defense of its oldest allies, and none of America’s enemies will be placated. The Egyptians might as well have asked Kerry to empty his pockets, because America has relinquished its influence in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.

— Bud Norman