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Another Annus Horribilis

Years always seem to end in the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and the skies are gray and the prairie winds blow bitterly cold, and thus far 2015 is proving no exception to that desultory rule. In this case it seems altogether apt, as 2015 has been a desultory year. Even the most determined optimist would find it hard to identify much good news from the past six months of headlines, in any section of the paper.
The economy sputtered along steadily enough that the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates a teensy-weensy bit, and the unemployment rate didn’t seem so bad if you just excluded all the underemployed and the huge number of people who’d given up on finding any sort of work, but the working stiff’s wages were still stagnant and even the investor class was having the hardest time making a profit since the legendarily hard times of the Great Depression. The global state of affairs further deteriorated, with the Middle East exploding in an even greater than usual hatred and the deadly repercussions being felt as far away as Paris and San Bernardino, refugees from that troubled region and Central America and elsewhere in the Third World pouring into the west in such numbers that they overwhelmed the resources and generosity of the First World, and elite western opinion blaming it all on capitalism. Academia went utterly mad in 2015, government regulations proliferated at an unprecedented rate, the popular culture offered no compensatory movies or songs or novels or dance crazes that we noticed, and our favorite sports teams suffered frustrating seasons.
The new year that starts tomorrow promises an extra Leap Year day, an inevitable spring, and a long and leafy summer that will lead to an autumnal Election Day that could possibly put some of this right, but the past year doesn’t make us hopeful. So far the Democrats seem more riled up about impoverishing the rich than enriching the poor, and the polls predicts that they’ll nominate a woman who has parlayed political influence into extraordinary wealth to make the point, so there’s little chance for progress there. Meanwhile the Republicans, until recently infuriated by crony capitalism and Russian arrogance and a shallow popular culture, are threatening to nominate a man who brags about buying off politicians and revels in the praise of Vladimir Putin and was the star of a long-running reality television show to make their point. The infuriation of 2015 will make level-headed decision-making difficult in 2016, although we can hope the warmer weather will help.

— Bud Norman

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Nothing Changes but the Climate

The weather around here has been awful lately, with constant cold and rain and ice, but we’re hopeful that over the next 10 days the world leaders who have gathered in Paris will come up with some solution for this recent inclement change in the climate. They’ve done such a stellar job of bringing peace and prosperity to the planet that they now consider climate change the world’s most pressing problem, so they should be able conquer nature with time to spare for a carefree Parisian weekend.
Or maybe not. The government of India is “seen as obstacle to meaningful climate deal in Paris,” according to the headline at the Financial Times, which is aghast that a smog-ridden country with “more at stake than any other large economy represented at this week’s climate summit” is reluctant to cripple its economy just as it has begun pulling its population out of centuries of abject poverty. There is a similar indignation throughout the press that even in the countries where those world leaders have taken up the climate change cause there is little enthusiasm about the project among the voters who elected them, and that the inevitable economy-crippling consequences of a meaningful climate deal will result in new leaders who will scuttle any deal that’s made. Not to mention that most nations probably won’t keep their end of any bargain, just as they have done in the past, and that the ones who do will be crippling their economies to no effect. There’s also a possibility that whatever deal they come up with be a lot of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo that makes no difference even if implemented, which also would not be without precedent, and that nature will continue to mock mankind as it has since the dawn of the time.
Still, we’re sure that they’ll give a try and it will make for a most entertaining spectacle. Speeches will be given, moral authority will be asserted, skeptics will be scoffed at, giant papier-mache puppets will be paraded down streets and earnest activists will dress up in polar bear costumes. If the terrorists don’t decide to shoot up Paris again everyone involved will enjoy some fine French wine and the famous Parisian nightlife, some sort of deal will be concocted, and the concluding speeches will be quite self-congratulatory.
The press almost everywhere will will try to help out, too, but we doubt that they’ll be able to rouse their readers to the hoped-for level of alarm. According to all the polls the American electorate remains stubbornly more concerned with such issues as terrorism and economic growth and the latest celebrity, even in a Germany where a famously less questioning-of-authority population buys in global warming alarmism most the public isn’t inclined to accept the economy-crippling measures that supposedly required to do anything about, and in those parts of the world still aspiring to American and European levels of economic development there’s even greater skepticism. The Indian government is talking about “carbon imperialism,” and the “indigenous peoples” of various nations are grousing they’re not invited to Paris to lobby for their first light bulbs, and although they’ll probably be disappointed to learn that anti-imperialism and indigenous peoples have been supplanted by climate change as the cause du jour of modern liberalism we expect they’ll nonetheless have their say. Despite all the open talk about legal prohibitions against any skepticism about all this nonsense, we expect that the American electorate will also eventually be heard.
As we were writing this another one of those darned earthquakes rolled through, and after all the ice that was already dragging down our tree limbs it’s made quite a mess of the front lawn. Once they’ve solved that pesky global warming problem, perhaps our world leaders can address themselves to this situation.

— Bud Norman

Beyond Winning and American Leadership

We have witnessed some pretty awful presidential press conferences in our time, but President Barack Obama’s performance in Turkey on Monday surpasses them all. There was nothing so memorably pithy as “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but it was packed with more pure nonsense and un-presidential prickliness than anything we can recall.

The Cable News Network reached into its thesaurus to describe the president as “unyielding” in the headline, but by the second paragraph was forced to settle for “testy,” and even such polite press as Politico.com described him responding to reporters questions with “mild irritation.” We’d have gone with “annoyed,” “arrogant,” “dismissive,” “snarky,” “snarling,” and “downright un-presidential,” but that would only be a warm-up for all for the pure nonsense that he spouted. Little wonder that the president was “defensive,” as other press outlets put it, as the recent victories of the Islamic State in Paris and Beirut and over the skies of Egypt and across an expanding caliphate in the Middle East, as well as his venue in recently-bombed and refugee-swarmed Turkey, forced him to defend his foreign policy in general and his dealings with the Islamic State in particular. Pure nonsense is necessary to defend such a record, and some un-presidential prickliness is inevitable.

Obama had once scoffed at the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and even after it seizure of an area larger than most European countries and its downing of a Russian jetliner over of Egypt and successful bombings against its Shiite enemies in Lebanon and another deadly attack in Turkey, and just hours before it launched a coordinate attack on six sites in Paris he boasted they were “contained,” so even the most cooperative press had to ask if he might have underestimated the enemy. The president explained that the expansion their Middle Eastern caliphate had not lately increased, a claim that even one of the most reliably supportive Democratic senators disputes, and which ignores its recent incursions into Lebanon and Turkey and the very heart of France, and we think even the most sympathetic observer would note some mild irritation on the president’s part.
Obama was more upbeat as he announced that “What is different this time” is that all the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war now “agree on a process that is needed to end this war, and so while we are very clear-eyed that this will be a very, very difficult road still ahead, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.” This is hardly Churchillian in its rhetorical spelndor, even without the accompanying prickliness, and only reminds how very, very difficult that road to surrender to Iran over its nuclear ambitions proved to be, and it was immediately undercut by his comments on how relentless the United States will be on the military front. “And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terroristic attack from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist attack that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
This is a devastating rebuttal of whatever straw men Obama imagines are advocating 50,000 troops in Syria, but it raises unsettling and unasked questions about what Obama would do in the case of a terrorist attack from Yemen or the former Libya that he bombed into chaos or North Africa or Southeast Asia or some other likely place of origin, and it has little to with the debate that’s actually occurring. Not only in the Republican nomination race but even in the most respectable foreign policy think tanks there is a growing consensus that some change of course is necessary, and the president responded to such contrary opinions by saying that “if people want to pop off and have opinions about what they think would do, have a specific plan. If they think somehow that their advisors are better than my joint chiefs of staff or my generals on the ground, I would like to meet them. I would like to have that debate.” Reports indicate that those generals on the ground are being ignored, and the joints chiefs of staff at this point are more considered concerned with gender equity and a welcoming atmosphere for non-traditional recruits, and the advice Obama has been following has turned out as it has, so the president is left with prickliness.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect the people in the region who are getting killed to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that,” the president, sounding rather testy. The statement implies than “winning” and “American leaders” are scare quote-worthy slogans that have no relationship to what will protect America and the people in the regions we’re doing some of the killing and for allies as well as “people like France,” and if it were only pithier it would live in presidential press conference infamy with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The historical consequences of such thinking, though, are likely to be far worse.
There was the familiar talk about not being at war with Islam, which Obama noted that even George W. Bush had said, and some worries that you can’t deal with suicide bombers, which isn’t even Rooseveltian, given that FDR had the Navy stand up against kamikaze pilots, and similar prickliness, but he topped it all with his insistence that America grant asylum to at least 100,000 “refugees” from the Syrian civil war, and his support for Europe taking in millions more. Those “refugees” include a suspiciously high number of fighting-age males, many have proved not be from Syria at all, at least one was involved in the horrific attacks on France, and despite his administration’s earnest assurances that they’ll all be carefully checked out there’s really no way of knowing, given the lack of Syrian record-keeping and current poor relations with the Syrian government, who might be a bad guy among the newfound wards of the state. This is all part of that humanitarian front, apparently, and the president insists it would be racist and xenophobic and downright un-American to question the wisdom of relocating the Middle East’s apparently unmanageable pathologies into America and the rest of the west, and that his more enlightened attitudes will eventually win the heart of the Muslim world.
We expect that most of the western world, even the bluest portions of the formerly stiff-spined America, will expect a less prickly and more robust response to the latest outrages. The Islamic State seems poised on further outrages yet, and far more robust responses will be required.

— Bud Norman

Until the Next Paris

Every time Islamic terrorism strikes against the west, as it does all too often, we somehow expect that at long last the reaction will be different. Instead of the obligatory worries about the anti-Muslim backlash that never occurs, or the rote assurances that Islam is a Religion of Peace, or the reflexive moral relativism that seeks to excuse cold-blooded murder as no worse than western civilization, we hold out faint hope that this time there will only be righteous outrage and a collective resolve that such barbarity will not be tolerated. The past weekend’s meticulously planned attacks on at least six locations in Paris, which killed more than 120 innocents and wounded hundreds more, sadly seems to have brought us only one more outrage closer to that surely inevitable day.
All of the usual hand-wringing about potential rather than actual victims of terrorism and pretzel-logic apologetics and ahistorical litanies of the west’s alleged past sins have predictably followed the carnage, and much of the west’s political leadership immediately demonstrated it usual cowardice. There were the same old statements of sympathy and support from the west’s capitals, of course, but most were couched in the same old language that seeks to avoid mentioning the ideology that has motivated the latest carnage. Almost nowhere in the halls of western government, except in the currently socialist and instinctively pacifist but momentarily enraged capital of Paris, is there any frank acknowledgment that a sufficient portion of the Islamic world has declared war against the west and that the west has every right and a moral obligation to protect its citizens, their freedoms, and their objectively superior culture.
President Barack Obama’s official statement was sympathetic and supportive and quite sure that “Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” but he was careful to not make any mention of who might have committed such a crime against the city or what might have motivated them. In a televised debate among the Democrats hoping to succeed, which was hastily changed to deal with the breaking news rather than the income inequality and Republican “war on women” and other topics they would have rather dealt with, none of the candidates were willing to accept the notion of Islamic terrorism even with the modifier of “radical” attached. Both the current occupant of the White House and each of his would-be successors maintained their welcoming stances regarding the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern of male and fighting-age “refugees” seeking asylum in America, none were willing to question the wisdom of the past seven years of empathetic outreach and brazen appeasement to the Islamists, and all maintained their calls for cuts in defense spending and increases in immigration from the Muslim world.
Even the journalists posing the questions during that dull debate seemed eager to change the subject, and we don’t wonder why. Just hours before the Islamic State launched its deadly attack on Paris Obama had gloated to the American Broadcast Company the terror gang was “contained,” echoing his earlier characterization of the growing caliphate as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, even though the same group of killers had recently downed a Russian airliner and bombed its Hezbollah rivals in Beirut and still controlled a large and expanding chunk of what was formerly Iraq and Syria, and the related messes in Libya and Turkey and Jordan and the tidal wave of refugees spilling into Europe and America made the breaking news all the more inconvenient for the administration. The unsurprising revelation that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks included some newly-welcomed “refugees” raised questions that even such reliably far-left outlets as the United Kingdom’s Guardian had to ask, and no one on the welcoming committees anywhere has any plausible answer. Some reliably far-left pundits even in the United States are noticing that the refugees are flowing out of areas once pacified by more confident western governments, but long since abandoned for ostensibly progressive reasons, and a Democratic field that includes the Secretary of State who bombed Libya and pulled out of Iraq and “reset” relations with a Russia that is suddenly in the middle of everything, a self-described socialist who immediately attempts to change the subject back to income inequality and Wall Street’s wickedness, and a former governor who has nothing to say except to chime that he also wants a very multi-national and nuanced response was few good answers.
There are other parties with other views to be found almost everywhere, that being one of the reasons that western civilization is objectively superior to others, so there’s still that faint hope that the proper outrage and resolute response can still be mustered. Already there’s much hand-wringing in the respectable press about the possibility of right-wing parties gaining a political advantage from the attack. In America “right-wing” means the Republicans, whose supine response to the last seven years of retreat should placate even the most paranoid left-winger, even if all the party’s candidates have been at least somewhat tougher in response to the Paris events than their Democratic counterparts, but in Europe that sometimes means the more unsavory nationalist and racialist and authoritarian notion of “right-wing.” So far as we can tell the United Kingdom Independence Party and Geert Wilders’ party in Holland and many of the other party’s resistant to unrestrained immigration are reasonable advocates of national sovereignty and the perpetuation of their cultures, but in some cases such as France’s National Front and several of Germany’s most forthright opponents to their country’s insane immigration the likely beneficiaries do have worrisome roots in the continent’s Fascist and Nazi past. When widely-held common sense opinions are ruled by the elites as beyond the bounds of respectable opinion, the most disreputable sorts of parties are bound to benefit, and if the elites here had the same power to define such boundaries as they do in Europe we’d surely be in the same position. Even here the candidate most likely to benefit from the public’s outrage is Donald Trump, so America might not be so well-positioned as we had once thought.
Here and throughout the rest of the west the anti-immigration forces are gaining strength, at least, along with any voices that dare to challenge the elite opinion that the occasional downed airline or shot-up concert hall or bombed marathon or act of “workplace violence” that claims 13 lives on an American military base are just the price to be paid for maintaining the western elite’s sense of moral superiority. We hope that this yields leaders willing to defend the western values of tolerance, free speech, and religious pluralism, and even the Judeo-Christian traditions that once led us to the modern world, and that we won’t have to choose between those who would sacrifice that for security and those who would throw it all away for the sake of some self-loathing suicide impulse. That significant portion of the Muslim world intent on waging war against the west is clearly determined, and sooner or later they’ll backlash they’re begging for.

— Bud Norman

Yet Another Deadline

Today is the deadline for reaching a nuclear deal with the Iranians, and by all accounts there won’t be any deal, but of course there will always be another deadline. By this point so many deadlines have passed and so many new ones have been set that it’s hard to see the point of going on, but hope apparently springs eternal at the State Department.
There doesn’t seem to have been much progress made over the past several deadlines, at least from the point of view of anyone who would prefer that the mad mullahs of Iran don’t get their hands on a nuclear weapon. After more than seven years of the Obama administration offering an open hand to the virulently anti-American and anti-semitic and longing-for-the-Armmageddon regime, and more than two years of sitting down at a Viennese negotiating table with them, they’re still insisting that no inspections of their military facilities be allowed and that all of the economic sanctions that forced them to that Viennese negotiating table cease the moment the deal is signed and not when it has been verified that there isn’t any nuclear shenanigans going on that those military facilities. Some “unnamed senior U.S. official” has acknowledged that America doesn’t allow foreign inspections of its military sites, and similarly unnamed U.S. officials have long sounded willing to go along with the sanctions demands, but even our French negotiating partners are balking at that while the Iranians seem eager to learn what further concessions they might extract from an American president who is clearly eager to make any sort of deal.
Our guess is that the Iranians are holding out for a deal that will require America to provide them with a sizable nuclear arsenal, along with the needed inter-continental ballistic missiles that can deliver them to Tel Aviv and Riyadh and Paris and any other locales that offend their religious sensibilities, along with the global positioning system coordinates needed to land them there, and that the final sticking point that requires yet another deadline will be whether New York City and Los Angeles and Wichita are also included in the bargain. New York City and Los Angeles are full of reliably Democratic voters, so that would be the sort of sticking point that would require a couple more deadlines to be set, but we expect that some unnamed senior U.S. official or another will find something in America’s sinful past and current policies that makes it unfair to object to the nuclear annihilation of such as reliably Republican town as Wichita.
The president’s foreign policy legacy is at stake, after all, and almost any deal that’s cooked up can somehow been portrayed by the obeisant press as some sort of triumph, so surely that’s worth another two or three or four or however many deadlines are required to get there.

— Bud Norman

This Time In Paris

The President of the United States once declared to the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” and a group of terrorists made the point more emphatically on Wednesday when they killed 12 people at the office of a French publication that had dared to print cartoons they considered slanderous to their Islamic faith. They might yet be proved right, but one can hope that the resistance will continue.
The murders in Paris are only the latest atrocities in a longstanding war against anyone making critical comments regarding anything Islamic, which began during Mohammad’s lifetime and has been especially troublesome since the fatwa was issued by the mullahs of Iran against Salman Rushdie in 1989. Since then the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh has been brutally murdered, the publishers of a Danish publication have gone in hiding, riots have raged through Egypt over a rarely seen YouTube video, and now 12 brave Frenchmen are dead. The response from the same western civilization that once protected free speech as a foremost value has thus far been acquiescent. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders was tried under his country’s restrictive “hate speech” laws for questioning the wisdom of unfettered immigration from Muslim countries, the masterful essayist Mark Steyn has found himself on trial before a Canadian “Human Rights Commission,” and Van Gogh’s courageously outspoken collaborator Aayan Hirsi Ali has been forced to leave the country for America and been banned from the graduation ceremonies of this country, where the maker of that rarely seen YouTube video was also sent to prison on questionable parole violations after the government officially condemned his views and falsely blamed him for the murder of four Americans at a consulate in Libya. The same American government questioned the judgment of that French publication for offending Muslim sensibilities, too, and has made a habit of declaring every act of Islamist terror “un-Islamic.”
This time around the response has been somewhat more forceful, with the President calling the attack “cowardly” and “evil” and appropriately offering America’s condolences and assistance, but there was no mention of anything to do with Islam, and his spokesman’s earlier statements even avoided the word “terrorism.” The Secretary of State went so far as to mention “extremism,” but neglected to mention exactly what was being brought to an extreme. After his previous equivocations France’s President Francois Hollande went with “cowardly” and upped that to “an act of exceptional barbarism,” but said nothing to suggest that the “no-go zones” where Islamist rule prevails on French soil would be invaded, or offered any assurances that might stem the tide of Jewish immigration from France that will soon it leave it virtually Judenrein, and there was the usual speculation that the disreputable parties of the nativist right would benefit from the failure of the reputable parties to acknowledge that this has anything to do with Islam. Those brave artists and journalists and intelligentsia across the western world who pride themselves on their withering attacks against Christianity or Judaism of capitalism or civilization or anything else that won’t provoke a violent reprisal are thus far eerily silent.
There are reports of large demonstrations across Europe protesting this outrage in Paris, which follow even earlier reports of growing resistance throughout the continent to the notion that the future must not belong to those who would slander the Prophet of Islam by disagreeing with anything his more irrational adherents might now choose to believe. If the popular sentiment is still strong enough perhaps the most disreputable parties won’t be empowered to deal with the problem, but both here and in Europe a frank acknowledgement of reality must become respectable. The terrorists who struck in Paris and are itching to strike here won’t be deterred until they understand that they cannot impose their will on the world, and that the future belongs to those who have a better idea.

— Bud Norman

Rock On, Joe

Times are tough for the humble civil servant, what with that “sequester” cutting a full $44 billion out of the scheduled growth in the federal government’s $3.8 trillion budget, but at least Vice President Joe Biden is sleeping well.
One would hope so, at least, given The Weekly Standard’s recent revelation that the veep racked up a $585,000.50 hotel tab for one night in Paris, as well as a relatively economical $459,388.65 bill for lodging on a slightly longer stay in London. The totals include accommodations for Biden’s sizeable entourage, to be fair, but throw in a $321,655 bill for Biden’s limousine service that the dogged reporters of The Weekly Standard also uncovered and it’s still the sort of expense account that would have raised eyebrows even at The Who’s record company.
Such rock-star extravagance is characteristic of the Obama administration — . to say that the First Family lives like royalty would understate the matter by many millions of dollars, given that no European country indulges its kings and queens with anything near the funding provided for the presidential lifestyle — but it is somewhat surprising for a second-rate opening act such as Biden. Not that we’d want such a eminent official of the United States government staying in the sort of hotel that budget-minded businessmen favor, although the bed would likely be just as soft, the courtesy bar just as well-stocked, and the pay-per-view pornography offerings just as titillating, but we would have expected someone of a mere vice presidential stature to be a bit more conscious of public relations.
The administration is still lamenting the supposedly devastating effects of the recent slight slow-down in the rate of federal spending, after all, and blaming such outrages as the end of guided White House tours for the kiddies on the psychotic stinginess of those darned congressional Republicans and their crazed fixation on fiscal solvency. They’re still clamoring for ever-higher taxes on the wealthy, too, having recently won re-election on the argument that the other guy was too rich and out-of-touch to identify with the common folks, and Biden’s “Regular Joe” shtick is a big part of the class envy campaign, so a million dollar hotel bill is not what the political professionals call “good optics.”
Biden probably figures that it will go unnoticed by everyone outside The Weekly Standard’s already-angry readership, though, and he’s almost certainly correct. Anyone old enough to remember the brouhaha that ensued when Nancy Reagan bought some pricey dinner plates for the White House with private funds be astounded at the lack of interest in Biden’s high living, but that was a different time and an administration of a different party.

— Bud Norman