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The Penultimate Day of a Dreary Eight Years

Today is President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, and it’s been a long wait. We were loudly grousing about the man back when he was first elected on a waft of hope that he was some sort of messiah, we groused again when he ran re-election on the argument that his opponent was some sort of devil, we’ve been grousing ever since, and we feel obliged to grouse once again as he leaves office with unaccountably high approval ratings.
Obama’s more die-hard admirers have already unleashed newspaper serials and hour-long video tributes and full-length hardcover books explaining how great he was, almost as great as promised back in the days when he was talking about how sea levels would fall and the national debt would decline and all that unpleasantness with Islam and the rest of the world would surely be worked out, but the case is hard to make at the moment when Donald Trump is about to be inaugurated as president.
All the testimonials point out how very bad the economy was when Obama took office, and how not -so-bad it is upon his departure, but we’ve paid enough attention that we’re not impressed. The economy was indeed in a deep recession starting some four or five months before Obama was inaugurated, but recessions always end and this was officially over before Obama could get his literally more-than-a-trillion-dollar “stimulus package” passed, and despite all the spending that had been added on top of the literally-more-than-a-trillion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program that Obama and pretty much everyone else from both parties voted for the recovery has been the weakest on post-war record, and although the headline unemployment rate looks pretty good the broader measure that includes part-timers and the unemployed and those out of the workforce and is buried deep in story hasn’t fully yet fully recovered. Massive new regulations for the financial industry and a major government power grab of the health care sector almost certainly had something to do with the sluggishness, and what growth did occur can largely be attributed to an oil boom that Obama tried to thwart. There was also a stock market boom, but that was because the Federal Reserve kept pumping money that had nowhere to go but the stock market, where it naturally wound up exacerbating all that economic inequality that Obama had vowed to end with his tax hikes, and although he has Bill Clinton’s luck that the bubble won’t burst until the next administration we’re not counting it as a major accomplishment.
Accomplishments are even harder to find in Obama’s foreign policy, although that doesn’t stop his admirers from trying. No one dares say that Obama’s Libyan adventure or that “red line” he in drew in the Syrian sand have worked out at all, and his past “reset” appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is suddenly unfashionable in liberal circles, but they do try to cast the deal with Iran where we give them billions of dollars and they sort of pretend not to be building a nuclear bomb as a breakthrough victory. The decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq helped win Obama re-election, and after four years it gets occasional mention, although even his most ardent admirers must admit there have been unhappy consequences. Obama’s efforts on behalf of the European Union and Israel’s more liberal political parties and Latin America’s more Marxist types have not proved fruitful, China and Russia and Iran and all the usual troublemakers are more troublesome than they were eight years, and we can’t think of any of international relationships that have been improved. His most ardent admirers point to his good intentions, which we’ll conceded for the sake of argument, but the only thing that good intentions wins is a Nobel Peace Prize.
All the promises of a post-racial and post-partisan and altogether more tolerant society have also proved hollow. The past eight years of attempts to impose racial quotas on law enforcement and school discipline have made life more dangerous for many black Americans and understandably annoyed a lot of the white ones, Obama’s declared belief that politics is a knife fight and the Democrats should bring a gun and the Republicans can come along for the ride so long as they sit in the back of the bus because “I won” has heightened partisan acrimony, and although we’ve got the same sex marriages that Obama claimed to oppose in both of his runs he’s fueling the intolerance for anyone who doesn’t want to bake a cake for the ceremonies.
Although it’s good to at long last see it all come to an end after today, we expect the effects to linger for a while. The next president has already promised a more-than-a-trillion-dollars stimulus package, plenty more market interventions, health insurance for everybody that’s going to be cheaper and better than what was promised in Obamacare, and no messing around with those Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid entitlements that are the main drivers of the national debt. So far Trump’s Russian policies make Obama’s seem downright Truman-esque, and our erstwhile allies in Europe are as alarmed as ourselves, and although Trump also seems a friend of Israel we have no idea what he has in mind for the rest of the Middle East. As far as that hyper-partisan atmosphere of guns and knives and relegating enemies to the back of the bus and the might of an electoral victory making right, we see little improvement ahead.
We’ve already been grousing about Trump for more than a year now, and expect to do so for another four years or more, but we’ll always attribute some share of the blame to Obama. Those who cheered on Obama’s racialist and partisan and intolerant rhetoric should have known what they were bound to provoke, and those who cheered on the executive actions and bureaucratic harassment of political enemies are about to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and despite all promises about making America great again none of us are likely to find out it works out any better than the Obama administration’s blather about hope and change.

— Bud Norman

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Grasping for Straws

Our formerly Grand Old Party formally nominated Donald J. Trump for President of the United States of America on Tuesday, so at this point the only straw of faint hope for the country we can grasp at is that he won’t accept the nomination on Thursday and instead admit that his candidacy was just a practical joke and publicity gimmick gone badly awry. There’s even less chance of that happening than that the Democrats won’t nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton by month’s end, and thus our formerly great country will almost certainly wind up with one of the two most deplorable people its all-too-human political system has ever vomited up as its next president.
Those always deplorable Democrats will surely embarrass themselves in nominating their unprecedentedly deplorable choice in short time, and we’ll gleefully note it when they do, but until then we must glumly concede they’ll be hard-pressed to top what’s been going on at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Thus far the Republican convention has featured the hated “establishment” that Trump vowed to burn down quashing the feeble efforts of delegates representing the majority of the grass-roots Republicans who voted against Trump with highly questionable parliamentary tactics, the third trophy wife of the formerly family values party borrowing lines from the deplorable President Barack Obama’s deplorable wife, and the star power of that guy who used to play “Chachi” on “Happy Days.” Conspicuously absent from the stage are the party’s last nominee and its past two presidents and the locally popular Republican governor of the crucial swing state of convention-hosting Ohio, all of whom the presumptive Republican has slandered in the most outrageous fashion. The runner-up whose wife the Republican nominee mocked as ugly and whose father he fancifully suggested was in on the assassination of John Kennedy is scheduled for a turn on the stage, but at this point we can’t think of anything he might say on behalf of Trump that will do him or the Republican nominee much good.

None of this is helpful in dissuading the clear majority of Americans who have already formed a negative of opinion of Trump. The “anti-establishment” mantle he claimed was undermined when the “establishment” proved just as feckless as he’d always said it was and meekly climbed aboard the “Trump train,” his third wife’s cribbing from Michelle Obama’s cliched convention speech undermines is no big deal but allows the press to undermine Trump’s claim that his inept general election operation will surround him with the best people, and that “Chachi” guy and his weird speech suggests that the erstwhile reality show star doesn’t have the pop culture credentials that were enough to win a nomination by a formerly Grand Old Party. Some of the speeches that were allowed at the convention made a persuasive case that the all-but-certain Democratic nominee is even worse, but even then the Republican nominee’s ego got in the way. Less noticed was the Republican Party platform’s suddenly pro-Russian stance, but then again the presumptive Democratic nominee was the one who first offered that “re-set button.”

Perhaps the most compelling speaker the Republicans could come up with was Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died along with American ambassador and two others in Benghazi, Libya, as a result of the utter incompetence of the presumptive Democratic nominee, who also brazenly lied to her face about the reasons why, but if you were watching on Fox News you missed it because the Republican nominee chose that crucial moment to phone in another self-aggrandizing and utterly ridiculous interview that pre-empted the speech. In any case he was outspokenly for that ill-advised Libyan adventure, even if he brazenly lies about it now to Patricia Smith and the rest of us, just as he brazenly lies about his opposition to the Iraq War that he slanderously blames on the last two Republican presidents, and no matter what apologies his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supports might come up with he missed yet another opportunity because he simply can’t shut up and let the Democrats look bad.
We can’t discount the possibility that the Democrats will once again boo God and badmouth America and otherwise embarrass themselves when they nominate their deplorable nominee, and we note with some satisfaction that she’s also unfavorably regarded by a heartening 60 percent or so of the country, but they’ll have their work cut out for them if they want to surpass what’s going on in Cleveland. In any case, we’ll be clinging to the faint straw of hope that some pot-smoking Libertarian or teetotaling Prohibitionist or some other oddball alternative might yet mitigate the next four awful years.

— Bud Norman

When It’s All So Awful It All Cancels Out

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee delivered an address on Wednesday about why the presumptive Democratic presidential is obviously unfit for the presidency, and we can’t see how any fair-minded individual might disagree he he made a very persuasive case. We’ve been earnestly pleasing the very same case since way back when the presumptive Republican nominee was saying the the presumptive Democratic nominee would make a great Secretary of State and was contributing to her phony-baloney family foundation and inviting her to his third wedding, and although we’d like to think we did so with more thoroughness and a more Swift-ian wit and less hypocrisy we concede he did a pretty good job of explaining why that awful woman should never be allowed to become president.
With characteristic bluntness he called her a “world-class liar” and the “most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and convincingly backed up the slurs with a familiar and well-established litany about the past decades of lies and corruption and other assorted scandals that have dogged her for her song long they’re now dismissed as “old news.” The speech would have had to have gone on as long as a Phillip Glass opera to include all the lies and corruption that we’ve dutifully passed along about the presumptive Democratic nominee over the years, so we can’t fault the presumptive Republican nominee for his lack of thoroughness, and we freely acknowledge that his rhetorical bluntness has proved far more effective than our Swift-ian wit, but we do worry that the blatant hypocrisy somehow blunted the message.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s speeches quite rightly denounced the presumptive Democratic nominee’s phony-balony family foundation as an influence-peddling scheme, but his fans will have to console themselves that his own six-figure contribution to that scam and his past boasts of buying political influence elsewhere just goes to show what a shrewd businessman he is. The presumptive Republican nominee quite rightly criticizes the presumptive Democratic nominee’s decision as Secretary of State to overthrow the odious-but-largely-defanged dictatorship of Libya’s dictatorial regime and boasts that he was more prescient about the matter, even though you can still watch the YouTube video of the presumptive Republican nominee urging the same disastrous policy as the presumptive Democratic nominee, and he’s running against her vote for the second Iraq War, falsely claiming that he was against it all along and now staking out the disproved andleft-of-the-presumptive-Democratic-nominee claim that “Bush lied, people died.” The presumptive Republican nominee’s otherwise convincing critiques of his erttwhile friend and new-found enemy’s “re-set” policy with Russia are undermined by how his own staff’s friendly business relationship with the nasty dictatorship there, and his unsettling “bromance” with that country’s dictator, and given how much the average voter pays attention to this stuff in these post-Cold War days we’d call it a draw. Although we pay far more attention to these matters than average voters, our experience of the average voter suggests we’d also have to call it a draw.
A few days ago the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was giving her own big speech about how the presumptive Republican nominee was a world-class liar and a thoroughly corrupt person, and except for the utter hypocrisy of such a world-class liar and thoroughly corrupt person complaining about him we didn’t find anything that fair-minded person wouldn’t agree with. Which is we find ourselves in these hot and sultry summer pre-convention days, and we can only hope for cooler temperatures come fall.

–Bud Norman

The Washington Post and the Rest of the Post-American World

These are dark times for such war-mongering neoconservative globalists as ourselves, as all our crazy notions about America being obligated by whatever’s left of its global economic and military and moral superiority to play a leadership role in maintaining some semblance of international order are clearly out of fashion. By now such an established institution as The Washington Post is convincingly arguing that the presumptive Republican nominee is running to the peacenik-left of the presumptive Democratic nominee, and giving him a strange new respect for it.
The presumptive Republican nominee loves to assail the press in general and The Washington Post in particular, as does every Republican politician, and he’ll no doubt have plenty of perfectly reasonable reasons to do so over the course of the campaign, as does every Republican politician, but even such a thin-skinned sort as Donald J. Trump would be hard-pressed to find any fault with a remarkable recent opinion piece by Post stalwart Marc A. Theissen. The author obligingly provided some heartening quotes from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s recent big foreign policy speech about how “If America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum,” but he seemed to do so with appropriate sarcasm, and how she promised to “go toe-to-toe” with Russian strongman leader Vladimir Putin, but he added the necessary point that she was the one who offered the ridiculous “re-set” button that emboldened all of Putin’s revanchist ambitions, and how she emphasized the need to “stick with our allies,” but he also noted that she was also in on the sell-out of Poland and the Czech Republic over a previously-agreed-upon missile defense deal, and how “we should listen to the generals,” but he rightly noted that she was also in on the disastrous pull-out from Iraq that all the generals warned against. He noted her all-too-plausible argument that Trump is “temperamentally unfit” to be Commander in Chief, but we couldn’t help sensing a certain amount of appropriate sarcasm there about her own questionable temperamental fitness, and when he quoted her all-too-plausible argument about Trump’s “affection for tyrants” he rightly noted that Clinton once described the tyrannical Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer” and the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak as a “friend of the family.”
The essay also quotes Trump saying that “I’m the one who didn’t want to go into Iraq, folks, and she’s the one who stupidly raised her hand to go into Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East,” and the characteristically un-parsable “Her decision to go into — and this was her baby, Libya — was a disaster,” and politely adds without any question that Trump has boasted of his opposition to both of those ill-fated wars. Since the reliably left-wing Washington Post suddenly won’t bother to fact-check these claims by the presumptive Republican nominee, it’s left to such right-bastards as ourselves to note that both boasts are typical of the lies that he routinely tells. While all the other shallow B-list celebrities from the Dixie Chicks to the Kardashians to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were loudly stating their widely-quoted opposition to the Iraq War, Trump’s only public utterance on the matter came on Howard Stern’s shock-jock radio show, presumably in between the usual talk about nude lesbian strippers, and on that august occasion he was clearly if reluctantly in favor of it, with his reluctance apparently stemming from a regret that he hadn’t been in charge of the first Iraq War and made that turn out more wonderfully. As for the Libyan debacle, you and your lying eyes and ears can still watch and listen to Trump on YouTube prior to the war urging that we topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who was undeniably an awful dictator but had largely been neutralized as a threat to national security after he gave up his weapons of mass destruction as a result of that second Iraq War that Trump now lies about having been against along.
It’s admittedly a matter of opinion rather than fact, but in the highly unlikely case we were ever stalwarts at The Washington Post we would have also argued that Trump’s implied assertion that prior to the Iraq War the Middle East was in any meaningful sense “stable” suggests he wasn’t paying much attention at the time, and that there’s nothing in Trump’s casino-and-strip-joint or scant foreign policy career to suggest that the Libyan War he so ardently urged on YouTube would have turned out any better under his guidance. Although we’ve been loathing and criticizing and ridiculing Clinton since long before those good old days when the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee was saying what a great Secretary of State she would be and inviting her to his third wedding and contributing to her phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation,” we’d also be obliged that to agree that her opponent is indeed temperamentally unfit to Commander in Chief and does indeed have an affinity for tyrants, and that Mubarak was at least better than the Muslim Brotherhood crazy that her administration eventually helped install, and that it wasn’t her vote for the Iraq War but rather her early retreat from the cause that make us loathe her, and that the presumptive Republican nominee is the one now insisting on the absurd calumny that “Bush lied, people died.” This sorry state of affairs might please one of the stalwarts at The Washington Post, but it portends dark times to such war-mongering neoconservative globalists such as ourselves.
In truth we have no affinity for war, there’s nothing the least bit “neo” about our Burkean and Old Testament and life-long conservatism, and although we’re rooting for the whole planet to do well we’ve long believed that America’s former idealistic exceptionalism would best shine the light to that long-sought path toward peace and prosperity. As we’ve said many times, our reading of history suggests that when there is no Pax Hellenica or Pax Romana or Pax Brittanica or Pax Americana there is no pax at all, and for now such crazy notions are clearly out of fashion in both parties and on the pages of such established institutions as The Washington Post. The presumptive Democratic nominee is lucky to be at long last rid of a self-described socialist challenger who was undeniably pristine on his anti-Iraq War views, she’s now running against a presumptive Republican nominee who goes even further than any of them with his absurd “Bush lied, people died” calumny, neither have any idea how to maintain America’s economic primacy and both are promising to maintain America’s military superiority on the cheap, and neither are capable of expressing any belief in America’s exceptionalism, and neither provide any convincing case for it. That stalwart at The Washington Post seems to hope the self-described socialist Sanders’ fans will be drawn to Trump, and to worry that some war-mongering neoconservative globalist Republicans such as ourselves will be swayed that Clinton at least hasn’t suggested starting a nuclear arms race in east Asia and breaking up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and re-negotiating all the economic arrangements that have  also been the lynchpin of the semblance of international order in the relatively peaceful and prosperous post World War II-era, but a shrewd old friend of ours at a local hipster dive says that foreign policy questions rarely affect a presidential election, and he’s probably more right about that than the stalwarts at The Washington Post. So at this point we have no idea how it will turn out.
In these dark times our best advice to the rest of the world, which we are rooting for even in our most patriotic and nationalist fervor, is to prepare for the next phase of the post-Pax Americana planet. An America reduced to choosing between this go-round’s godawful choices of presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees will surely leave the rest of the world on its own, for better for worse.

— Bud Norman

The Coming Months of Well-Deserved Mud

The seemingly certain nominees of both of America’s major political parties have already announced their intention to hurl all sorts of horrible accusations about one another’s low moral character over the summer and into the fall, and alas, almost every word of it will be true.
Both candidates have been in the public eye for several decades, and according to all the opinion polls are unfavorably regarded by the vast majority of the public, and at this point the only plausible argument for either of them is that the other is even worse, so there’s really nothing left to do but throw the plentiful supplies of mud. They could talk about the many serious issues facing the country, but that’s not nearly so entertaining to the public, and there’s no telling where either of them might end up on any of that stuff by Inauguration Day in any case.
The presumptive Republican nominee, self-described billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, has quite characteristically bragged to The New York Times about his plans to insult his way to the presidency, and it seems a sound strategy. He has somehow managed to dispatch a large field of far more qualified and honorable candidates in the primary campaign by this method, and in the general election he won’t have to resort to outright lies and exaggerated irrelevancies to do it. The Democratic nominee is former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has disgraced each post with her corrupt and dishonest and downright sleazy ways, and her numerous ancient and on-going scandals and glaring failings as a human being are certainly something one should take into consideration when making her the putative leader of the free world. Still, the strategy entails certain risks.
Clinton and her equally corrupt and dishonest and downright sleazy ex-President of the United States husband are responsible for the coinage of the term “politics of personal destruction,” and in all their mostly-won battles they’ve rarely had a more target-rich terrain than Trump. The presumptive Republican nominee is a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt casino-and-strip-joint mogul and former professional-wrestling and reality-show star who ran a scam university and vitamin-peddling scheme who has run several businesses into the ground and brags about the politicians he’s bought off and the married babes he’s bagged and mocks a guy’s physical handicap and cheats at golf, and all the scandals yet to come on both sides will often overlap.
Trump has rightly declared that Bill Clinton’s many tawdry sex scandals are fair game, and Clinton has already rightly responded that the equally tawdry sex life Trump has so often bragged about should also be considered. Trump might even bring up the at-this-point-little-known fact that Bill Clinton has been hanging around with convicted billionaire ephebophile Jeffrey Epstein, which well deserves wider attention, but Clinton can easily cite that pesky 2002 New York Magazine interview where Trump said “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” He can cite the shady nature of the Clinton’s family foundation, and she can cite the $100,000 donation he gave to it. He can damn the truly damnable lies she told in the aftermath of her disastrous toppling of the Libyan government, but she can note that his claims to have opposed that ill-fated missions are also damnable lies and if she insinuates that the never-take-blame and blatantly dishonest Trump would have resorted to the same mistruths we’ll have to give the devil her due. If Trump wants to go back in time he can recall how Clinton ruthlessly used her husband’s presidential power to railroad an honest public servant in the White House travel office to enrich her friends, and Clinton will surely make a celebrity of the humble widow that Trump’s lawyers tried to have evicted from home so he could build a parking lot for his limo. Trump is so sleazy he invited Clinton to his third wedding, and Clinton is so sleazy she accepted the invitation, and in a year that was supposed to have toppled our sleazy pop-cultural and political establishment this is what we’re left with.
All our previous assumptions about America having been shattered, we now have no idea how it will turn out. Such old-time media as The New York Times and The Washington Post will continue to be aghast at the moral rectitude of Trump, and continue for at least another four years to turn a blind eye to the vileness of the Clintons. Such new-fangled and self-described conservative media as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who were once so aghast at the Clintons’ moral rectitude, will continue to turn a blind eye to the vileness that Trump actually brags about. By now none of them are much trusted by almost anyone, though, so we never can guess which one of those awful reality shows is going to be the big hit, so the race is hard to handicap. It might all come down to the racial and ethnic and class divisions that have been so thoroughly exacerbated after the eight years of “Hope and Change” that the last huckster brought us, and the inevitable brawls that have already begun, but that’s also hard to figure these days.

— Bud Norman

A New Year Opens in the Middle East

Unsurprisingly enough, the first big story of the year is coming at us from the Middle East. That constantly troubled region was already troublesome enough for the rest of the world, what with civil wars breaking out in Syria and Libya and Yemen and elsewhere and the refugees spilling into the west in unmanageable numbers and ballistic missiles test being conducted by aspiring nuclear powers and terrorist attacks occurring from Paris to San Bernardino, but now we’ve got that whole Shi’ite versus Sunni thing coming to a head with increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Shi’ite versus Sunni thing goes back more than 1,400 years, and so far as we can tell has something do with whether Mohammad’s family or closest friends should have inherited his spiritual authority, but we’ll skip ahead to the present day when Iran is the most powerful Shi’ite country and Saudi Arabia is the most important Sunni country and the old hatreds still persist. The two countries were already fighting proxy wars in Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels had overthrown the Saudi-backed government, and in an even more complicated war in the former portions of Iraq and Syria that are now controlled by the Islamic State, which is Sunni but threateningly crazy even by Saudi standards, where the Saudis’ ineffectual fighters are also opposed by the Iran-backed Syrian regime and their suddenly dominant Russian ally, but now the tensions have again  been significantly increased. After a couple of decades of imprisonment the Saudis chose the date of January Second to execute, by beheading or firing squad, 46 crazy-even-by-Saudi-standards Sunni terrorists and one prominent Shi’ite cleric. That lattermost execution seemed calculated to inflame Shi’ite sensibilities and quickly led to an arson assault on by an angry mob on the Saudi embassy in Iran, which was clearly tolerated by the otherwise repressive Iranian regime. Since then there’s been a suspension of diplomatic ties and talk of outright war, as well as the usual diplomatic dissembling.
It’s enough to roil the international stock markets and recall Iran’s past assaults on its guest embassies and spur conspiracy theories about how the plunging price of oil is provoking a mutually beneficial war, and it’s bound to affect the ongoing politics of the United States of America. Even such harsh critics are ourselves won’t blame the Obama administration for the more-than-1,400-year-old Sunni versus Shi’ite thing, but even the administration’s most determined apologists can’t muster an argument that the past seven years of American foreign policy have worked out well. The retreat from Iraq is looking very much like a mistake, even if America’s entry into the country is so widely regarded as a mistake that even the leading Republican candidates feel obliged to say so, and that awful deal giving Iran $150 billion and no meaningful restraints on the nuclear weapons program they’ve been flouting ever since it went unsigned is looking more awful than ever, the planned retreat from still-troublesome Afghanistan now looks as if it might await another administration or two, and even modern liberalism’s exquisitely well-intentioned guiding principle about abandoning traditional allies and extending open hands to traditional enemies is now clearly called into question.
The Republicans will be challenged to come up with a plausible solution to this more-than-1,400-year-old mess, and we have little confidence they will, but we expect that even the most stridently xenophobic and reactionary policies they propose will seem more plausible than whatever the Democrats can come up with. The Democrats are by now obliged to pretend that whatever ails the world surely has nothing to do Islam, and that whatever more-than-1,400-year-old problems do seem to be occurring can surely be blamed on George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy ways, and that at any rate climate change is the more pressing concern, so we expect they’ll find themselves in a defensive position by Election Day. There’s no telling what will happen between now and then, but another terror attack on the west seems more likely than an outbreak of peace.
We have little regard for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian but not quite so crazy as Islamic State regime of Saudi Arabia, and none whatsoever for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian and soon-to-be-nuclear-armed regime of Iran, and at this point our only rooting interesting in the region is for democratic and humane Israel and the last of the Christians and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and secular agnostics and other religious minorities in that dismal part of the world, and we won’t pretend to have solutions to this more-than-1,400-year-old problem. Something different is obviously called for, however, and one way or another we do expect that will eventually occur.

— Bud Norman

Benghazi and the Difference It Makes

Former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spent most of Thursday testifying to a House committee investigating the the tragic deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at a far-flung consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and by the end of it her handling of the matter was revealed as even more incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable than was previously known. Still, one can’t help forlornly accepting Clinton’s infamous argument that “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
What was previously known was damning enough, after all. Even by Election Day way back in ’12 it had been established that at Clinton’s urging the administration of President Barack Obama had bombed an odious but defanged dictator out of power in Libya and thus ushered in an power vacuum where various Islamist terror groups thrived, then ignored repeated pleas for more security by the unfortunate men and women who were sent into the resulting anarchy to serve the government, that when the long foreseen terrorist attack at last occurred they lied to the American public that it was the entirely unpredictable result of a spontaneous demonstration sparked by the local populace’s understandable outrage over an obscure YouTube video critical of Islam rather than a well-planned attack by the terrorist gangs that were assuredly being routed, then had the filmmaker imprisoned on a parole violation for exercising his First Amendment rights and assured the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those slander the prophet of Islam,” and withheld information from government and press investigators to cover it all up. None of this prevented Obama’s re-election, and even the resulting scandal about Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured and most likely illegal e-mail server in apparent attempt to keep further embarrassing facts away from public scrutiny hasn’t changed the media perception that she’s still the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
For reasons they cannot adequately explain to us, all of our Democratic friends are quite insouciant about the whole affair. Had it happened during a Republican administration we expect they’d share some at least some of our outrage about it, but in this case they find all sorts of excuses. None seem at all upset that we bombed some Middle Eastern dictator out of power, even though he’d verifiably surrendered all his weapons of mass destruction after the invasion of Iraq and posed no immediate threat to America’s national security, and even though they take a much dimmer view of such actions during Republican administrations. A columnist for a recently-defunct local “alternative paper” blamed the deaths on the daredevil recklessness of the ambassador, despite the repeated pleas for more security, and his readers seemed to accept that a Secretary of State should be doing whatever Clinton doing at the time to deal with such minor matters as the security arrangements for some remote consulate. That she blamed it on a spontaneous demonstration against some obscure and easily targeted filmmaker in order to help her administration’s re-election doesn’t seem to trouble a Democrats’ conscience, either, as they can ascribe any Republican criticism to rank political partisanship and their otherwise steadfast commitment to the most irreligious sorts of free speech ends short of any slander against the prophet of Islam. As for the highly irregular e-mail arrangement that now figures it in the scandal, even the only credible challenger to Clinton’s presumptive Democratic nomination says to great applause that he’s sick of hearing about it.
Pretty much everyone that’s not a true believer in the Democratic faith has already concluded that Clinton is incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable, too, so there seems little to be gained from another day’s further confirmation of what has so long been obvious. At this point, though, we appreciate even the most futile gesture.
The day’s testimony might not hurt Clinton’s electoral chances, but it can’t possibly help. Committee chairman and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy was able to get in some digs about how longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid Blumenthal, better known as “Sid Vicious,” who had some economic interest in toppling Libya’s odious but defanged dictatorship, was among the few people who had knowledge of Clinton’s irregular e-mail account while the ambassador in Libya did not. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was able to cite some hard-attained e-mails from staff who were appalled that Clinton and other administration officials were peddling a false tale about spontaneous demonstrations against obscure YouTube videos, as well as an e-mail to her daughter admitting that it was well-planned terror attack, and to establish that the lie started with her. Our very own Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was able to establish that there were at least 600 requests from Benghazi for enhanced security, which forced the embarrassing response that “One of the great attributes that Chris Stevens had was a really good sense of humor. And I just see him smiling as he types this.”
That eerie moment will go mostly unnoticed by the public, and no hardened opinions will be altered by it, but we’re nonetheless glad it happened. There’s something to be said for establishing a factual historical record, no matter how inconsequential it might prove in the short term, and certainly that ambassador and those three other dead Americans deserve that. The unfolding facts can’t help Clinton, either, and there’s something to be said for that as well.

— Bud Norman

On Indifference and Outrage

Those high-brow fellows over at Commentary magazine recently published a fine essay on the art world’s self-inflected irrelevance, and we recommend it to all our culture vulture readers who still take an interest in such things. We’ve already fulminated a few times on these pages about pretty much the same unhappy point, though, and what most struck us was an opening anecdote that nicely illustrates an even bigger problem with what people are now indifferent to and what still offends them.
The author, who seems such a reasonable thinker that we are pleasantly surprised to note he is somehow the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, recalls showing one of his classes the grainy black-and-white film documentation of a 1971 performance art piece by the late Chris Burden, which involved having a friend shoot him in the arm with .22-calibre rifle at close range. We can still recall how the alleged artwork provoked a wide range of reactions even at such a late date in modernity as 1971, but the 21st Century students who watched were mostly interested in the legal ramifications and tried hard to it put into the context that savvy art students now understand their professors expect, but were otherwise indifferent. The professor seems somewhat surprised at such a dispassionate reaction to the spectacle of a man being shot in the arm at close range by .22-calibre rifle, but we are not. As the professor notes in the rest of his essay, even by the time Burns got around to it this sort of shock-the-squares stuff had already been going in the art world since approximately the end of World War I, and that Burns had to top it by having himself famously crucified atop a Volkswagen Beetle, and that subsequent attempts at giving offense have required ever more over-the-top outrages, so by now indifference to such efforts is both the sophisticated and sensible reaction.
What strikes us as odd, and went unmentioned by the professor, is that these same 21st Century students are the ones who require “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and protection from “micro-aggressions” and outright censorship of Ovid or Mark Twain or The Bible or that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any other vestige of pre-World War I Western Civilization that might call into question the comforting consensus of academic opinion. Such strangely differing standards of what should be met with indifference and what should be met with offense are by no means confined to the academy, or to those corners of the world only culture vultures still take an interest in, but also define the broader public’s approach to politics.
Thus The New York Times is outraged by the four traffic tickets that Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio has received over the past 20 years, but seemingly indifferent to the four brave Americans who were killed in an American consulate in Libya that failed to receive requested security from Democratic presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her ill-fated war against Libya. Thus the civil rights establishment is aroused to hash-tagging “black lives matter” and rioting in the streets when a black man is killed by police in even the most justifiable circumstances, yet indifferent to the vastly greater number of black men killed by other black men, and further indifferent when that horrible number inevitably increases after the hash-tagging and rioting inevitably hamper law enforcement efforts in poor black neighborhoods. Thus it is that polite opinion holds the insane profligacy of the Greek government is not only to be tolerated but forever to be subsidized, while a corporation that prefers not to pay its minimum wage employees any more than they produce is considered outrageously greedy. Thus it is that the mass executions of homosexuals in the Islamic world is met with sincere attempts to understand context and generally with indifference, while some Baptist confectioner’s reluctance to bake a gay wedding cake is met with widespread outrage.
A couple of years after Burden’s performance art piece provoked widespread outrage the public was so shocked by executive lawlessness that President Richard Nixon was forced to resign, with the second article of impeachment being that he had dared raise the possibility of using the Internal Revenue Service to harass his political opponents, but these days the president flouts immigration law with powers that even he had previously stated he does not constitutionally possess, and the stories about how the IRS actually did harass his political enemies and then engage in a Nixonian but up-to-date cover-up continue to trickle out, yet it is met with indifference. Perhaps it’s the same process of the public becoming inured to indifference by endless repetition, but that can’t explain why there’s still plenty of outrage left for far less inconsequential matters.
We continue to read about those high-brow culture vulture issues even in this age of art’s irrelevance, and to follow all those silly academic quarrels going on within the “safe spaces” from “micro-aggressions,” even as we recognize that by now they are of far less importance than the first four dead Americans from a failed foreign policy and the overlooked black lives that are taken while the police are under indictment and the eventual global consequences of the profligacy of the Greeks and just about everyone and the horrible fate of homosexuals in the Islamic world and the injustice being done to traditionalist confectioners in the name of homosexual rights, because we think they also matter. A society that can no longer recognize the difference between art and some nihilistic nutcase inviting a friend to shoot him in the arm, or prefers the comforting consensus of contemporary academic opinion to the challenging truths of of Ovid and Mark Twain and The Bible and that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any of the rest of pre-World War I western civilization, is unlikely to choose wisely about what should be met with indifference and what should be met with outrage.

— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Hilarious E-Mails

The small portion of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails that survived her elaborate efforts at secrecy and have at long last been pried from her by court order don’t contain any campaign-sinking “smoking gun,” so far as we can tell, but there is plenty of fodder for ridicule. None of the late-night comedy shows are likely to avail themselves of it, but without any pesky network affiliations we simply can’t resist the opportunity.
To begin, we note that Clinton’s e-mails are at least as sloppily written as the average American’s. This is to be expected, we suppose, given the severe damage that computers have done to the English language, and at this point we hold out no hope that the eventual Republican presidential nominee’s inevitably released e-mails will prove any better, but we feel it worth noting nonetheless. We compose our own electronic correspondence with salutations that include the appropriate courtesy title, followed by a comma and an indentation, followed by sentences that begin with a capital letter and end with a period and have all the necessary punctuation in between, and each of the words are spelled out in their entirety and never substituted with an arabic numeral or indecipherable acronym or faddish abbreviation or cutesy “emoticon,” and the sentences are arranged into paragraphs of related concepts, with indentation following, and it always ends with a formal “Sincerely” or chummy “Your pal,” depending on the recipient, along with a properly indented e-signature, as well of the rest of the stuff we were taught back in school during the more rigorous pre-E days of letter-writing. So far as we can tell we are the last people in America to hew to such outdated traditions, but we are steadfastly manning the barricades in hopes that reinforcements of proper writing will eventually arrive, and in the meantime we’re not going to let it go unmentioned that the presumptive next President of the United States is so gallingly illiterate. She was Secretary of State when typing this garble, after all, and one shudders to think what better-educated and more-illustrious predecessors such as John Quincy Adams and John Foster Dulles and Condoleezza Rice would have made of it.
Even those who aren’t such sticklers for proper prose will be amused by the slapstick antics that the awful writing reveal. One long and convoluted exchange with constant sidekick and Muslim Brotherhood legatee Huma Abedin, who is also married to that former New York congressman who kept sending e-mailed pictures of underwear-clad private parts to various other women, demonstrates  in a sort of “I Love Lucy” sketch that the presumptive next President of the United States does not know how to operate a fax machine. Another e-mail involved some unknown person who was “Twittering” in Clinton’s name, with the concern seeming rather ambivalent because whoever it was getting a good number of followers yet receiving unenthusiastic reviews in Newsweek. Another involved a planned article in the Parade Magazine supplement that many newspapers still run, along with assurances from the author that “she will like it.” Another was addressed to an underling who was asked to request that one of her underlings fetch Clinton some iced tea. The one that’s been getting the biggest laughs in the conservative media has Clinton asking someone named Lona Valmoro and the aforementioned Abedin, in a missive with the subject heading of “Cabinet mtg,” “I heard on the radio that there is a cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?”
There’s also lots of stuff from Sidney Blumenthal, which is also hilarious to anyone old enough to recall him as one of the sleazier operatives of the previous Clinton administration, which is saying something, and much of it is his advice that the Secretary of State not be modest in claiming credit for the Libya policy that has since plunged that nation into such utter chaos that an ambassador and three other Americans died in a terrorist attack there, and a filmmaker was falsely blamed and sent to prison for criticizing Islam, and the Islamic State has gained a significant foothold there, and of course with benefit of hindsight it’s all something that the presumptive next President of the United States would prefer go unmentioned. It’s not the kind of thing the late-night comedians will find amusing, but again we think it ought not go unmentioned.

— Bud Norman

Islam in the News

Another American has been sadistically beheaded for the benefit of a worldwide internet audience, terrorists are frolicking poolside at an abandoned American embassy in Libya, the reports from northern England are every bit as shocking, and Islam is back in the news.
Some effort is usually made by the western world’s editors and producers to keep Islam out of the news, except for the occasional multi-cutural puff piece about the Religion of Peace around Ramadan or another op-ed about the impending threat of an Islamophobic backlash by those barbarians out there in the American heartlands, but it’s lately been impossible to completely excise the word from the coverage. The beheading was carried out by an organization variously described as ISIL or ISIS, and even the most polite press is obliged to explain on first reference that in either case the “IS” stands for “Islamic State.” Those shady-looking characters enjoying a cool dip in that American taxpayer-funded swimming pool are just as insistent on proclaiming their Islamic allegiance. The 1,400 English children who were sexually abused in the hitherto little-known village of Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 ordinarily wouldn’t warrant the world’s attention, but England’s more robust newspapers have at last found it noteworthy that the abuse continued so long because local authorities purposefully overlooked the overwhelming evidence against the Muslim perpetrators for fear of being accused of racism and religious prejudice.
By now everyone is familiar with the obligatory disclaimer that most of the world’s Muslims are peaceable people with no intentions to behead or blow-up or gang rape anyone you know, but only because it’s been appended to so many stories about the endless slaughter and countless atrocities committed in the name of Islam. Most Muslims truly would prefer a peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world, we’d like to think, but until they start enforcing this sensible preference on their more militant co-religionists the truism will be of no practical value to the rest of the world. Thus far the more militant are the ones imposing their preferences, with the relatively peaceable sorts of Muslims being the most numerous victims, and all the carefully worded disclaimers cannot hide the ugly consequences. Even the fear of being accused of racism and religious prejudice will not forever conceal the truth that much of the Islamic world is resolutely at war with the rest of us..
This has been true for the past 1,400 years or so, another unhappy fact that polite opinion would rather ignore, but the latest conflicts have been especially worrisome and worthy of frank consideration. The violence inflicted by the Islamic State features a brutality not seen since the glory days of Islam’s conquests, the land being conquered is broader and more resource-rich than in the past several centuries, western passports and porous borders and seized jetliners provide the terrorists with unprecedented opportunities for mass slaughter in almost any country, and there’s the problem that polite opinion in the rest of the world would rather ignore it. The President of the United States candidly admits that he has no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, and quite conceal his disappointment that the big speech he gave in Cairo and his boyhood days in an Indonesian Madrassa haven’t placated the head-chopping and land-grabbing Islamists of the world.
Another 350 troops are heading back to Iraq, whose safe and stable democracy was once one of the administration’s greatest achievements, and drone strikes and special forces missions are ongoing elsewhere in the Muslim world, but of course it’s all accompanied by lots of talk about peaceable majority of Muslims and the need for Israel to show restraint in its efforts to deal with more pressing problems concerning the religion of peace. There still seems some faint hope that the whole matter can be settled without any mention of any religion, and in a way that won’t interfere with the planned downsizing of the military, but it’s going to take some sympathetic coverage. Islam is back in the news, and is getting harder to ignore.

— Bud Norman