Advertisements

Revising the Foreign Policy Theory

As improbable as it might seem in retrospect, the theory underlying the Obama foreign policy when it was unveiled during the 2008 presidential campaign was that because of the candidate’s African heritage, Arabic middle name, Muslim schooling, and Messianic persona, “The day I am inaugurated, not only will the country look at itself differently, the world will look at America differently.” Throw in some silver-tongued and culturally relativist rhetoric, a bit of “daylight” between Israel and America, and other assurances that America had abandoned its past racist and imperialist bellicosity, we were assured, and the past millennia-and-a-half of unpleasant would cease. This fanciful notion had an understandable appeal to a war-weary country, but after seven years it requires a bit of revision.
The promised withdrawal from the hated war in Iraq has ceded control of a third of the country to the barbaric Islamic State, with the rest of the country increasingly reliant on the support of Iran, which has lately been backing a successful revolt against the American-backed government in Yemen, which the administration continues to cite as a model of its anti-terrorism strategy, complicating the administration’s efforts to capitulate to all of Iran’s demands in its negotiations over that country’s nuclear weapons program, which has already prompted Saudi Arabia to join a nuclear arms race in this volatile region. The Syrian civil war continues to rage despite the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian dictatorship, which once again crosses the president’s declared “red line,” which was supposed to have been settled through “re-set” relations with Russians, who continue to occupy large chunks of Ukraine and seem ready to grab more land. Libya continues its descent into chaos since being bombed into anarchy by a coalition “led from behind” by America, Afghanistan anxiously awaits the results of another American withdrawal, and Iran continues its reach into Lebanon and Jordan. There’s by now enough daylight between Israel and America to fill an Alaskan summer, enough to have scuttled any chance of a promised peace agreement with the Palestinians, yet our negotiating partners in Iran continue to chant “Death to America” and the rest of the Muslim doesn’t seem any more friendly.
Such a conspicuous gap between between what was promised and what has occurred requires some explanation, even for the most credulous press, so the reporters at Politico dug deep into their rolodexes and found some ambitious unnamed officials who were willing to give it a try. Someone described as a “Senior State Department official” went so far as to say that “If there’s one lesson this administration has learned, from President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech through the Arab Spring, it’s that when it comes to this region, nothing happens in a linear way — and precious little is about us, which is a hard reality to accept.” We are heartened to hear that the administration has learned something over the past six years, and can appreciate how hard it must have been to accept that not everything that happens in the Middle East is about us, given their previous deep-seated beliefs that all the pathologies of the Middle East are entirely America’s fault, but we’re not reassured the right lessons have been learned.
The administration still seems intent on whatever bargain the Iranians might agree to, with a recent Iranian defector saying “the U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf,” although all the linear and non-linear ways that might turn out are catastrophic. Its apologists continue to blame the blame the policies of the previous administration, and by extension the previous 200 years of American foreign that sought to protect the country’s interests, even as they insist it is no longer about us. There is retreat on one front, drone strikes on another, and alliances that seem to mean little in terms of useful support on yet another. There is little reason to believe the administration understands that while events are always beyond America’s control they are rarely beyond its influence, that the more strident passages of the Koran and the Hadith have something to do with conflicts that have been ongoing since long before the founding of the American public, or that the relatively tiny population of Jews in the relatively tiny country of Israel aren’t somehow responsible for the whole mess.
One promise kept has been that the world now sees America differently. The world now sees us as an untrustworthy friend and harmless enemy. Perhaps America also sees itself differently, too, but we hope not.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

A False but Accurate News Conference

The following transcript is not an an actual White House news conference, and is instead something we dreamed up for the recent “Gridiron” show, but we offer it in a belief that it has a greater verisimilitude than the real thing. Also, we’re busy with chores and friends’ personal problems and have no energy for that ridiculous New York Times story on income inequality, so in the interest of the environment we’re going to recycle.
CHIP WILSON: Hello, I’m Chip Wilson. Jay Carney is taking an extended leave of absence in order to grow a real beard, and in the meantime I’ll be the acting White House Press Secretary. Do you have any questions?
REPORTER ONE: About Obamacare …
WILSON: I’m sorry, but let me interrupt you right there. This is just my first day on the job, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with Obamacare. Does anybody have a question about something other than Obamacare? No? Damn it. Well, OK, what was your question?
REPORTER ONE: The president said that under Obamacare people the average American would be paying less for his health care insurance than his cell phone bills, but instead most people are seeing rate increases. Isn’t this another broken promise?
WILSON: I can assure you the president is working hard to keep that promise. He’s already proposed legislation that would drastically increase the average American’s cell phone bill. If our do-nothing Congress won’t act on this pressing matter, you can hardly blame the the president.
REPORTER TWO: What about the president’s promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep you health care plan”? Millions have already lost their coverage, and millions more will when you finally get around to enforcing the employer mandate.
WILSON: I think you need to go back and check that quote. You’ll see that what he actually said was “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period, end of story.”
REPORTER TWO: How does that make it better?
WILSON: Well, where I come from, “period, end of story” is generally understood to mean that you won’t be able to keep your health care plan.
REPORTER TWO: Where do you come from?
WILSON: I come from the post-modern world, pal, where words can mean whatever the hell you want them to mean. What hick town do you come from?
REPORTER THREE: You say that eight million people have signed up for Obamacare, but can you tell us how many of them have actually made a payment?
WILSON: I’m sorry, I don’t know.
REPORTER FOUR: Can you tell us how many of them previously were covered, but lost their plans due to Obamacare?
WILSON: I don’t know.
REPORTER FIVE: Can you tell us how many wound up on Medicaid?
WILSON: I don’t know.
REPORTER SIX: Can you tell us how many of them are the young, healthy people with no need for these comprehensive plans that you need to make this boondoggle work?
WILSON: I don’t know.
REPORTER ONE: Why don’t you know?
WILSON: Trust me, you don’t want to know.
REPORTER TWO: The law is currently being challenged in the courts by the Little Sisters of the Poor, who can’t understand why they’re being compelled to pay for contraceptive coverage. How do you respond to that?
WILSON: The Little Sisters of the Poor, as you know, are a notorious street gang that oppose everything this administration does because of the threat we pose to their nefarious traffic in prostitution and narcotics.
REPORTER TWO: Actually, it’s an order of nuns who provide care to the indigent elderly.
WILSON: A perfect cover, don’t you think?
REPORTER THREE: What about the report from the Congressional Budget Office that more than two million Americans will leave the labor force rather than taking a low wage job that would force them to relinquish their Obamacare subsidies?
WILSON: These fortunate people have been freed from the bondage of work. Do you want them to be wage slaves? Of course not. And what makes wage slaves? Wages, that’s what. Thanks to the miracle of Obamacare, these Americans can now devote their energies to more creative pursuits. We’re expecting a veritable renaissance of macrame and beer can sculpture.
REPORTER FOUR: Despite these assurances, all the polls show that most Americans disapprove of Obamacare.
WILSON: The administration is hard at work on that, as well. We’ve launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to to convince Americans they do approve of Obamacare. We’ve got some NBA stars, some healthy and pretty young models, and we’re in negotiations with that “Flo” woman from the Progressive ads.
REPORTER FOUR: And you think this will make Americans approve of paying more for less?
WILSON: Well, we believe that if the public can be persuaded to watch mixed martial arts fighting and the “Real Housewives of Haysville,” they can be persuaded to do just about anything. They did vote for my boss twice, after all, and he’s not nearly as likable as that “Flo” woman from the Progressive ads. Also, we’re counting on you on the media to help out in the effort. I mean, come on, it’s Obama.
(Reporters all murmur their general agreement.)

The Wising-Up of a Country

In such strange times as these we were heartened to read that 61 percent of America of thinks the president is a liar. Ordinarily we would find this a worrisome development, but in these extraordinary circumstances we consider it good news that the suckers are wising up.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the Fox News network, so feel free to dismiss it as just another fabrication by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There’s lately been a conspicuous lack of polling that indicates widespread trust in the president’s honesty, however, and we’re inclined to think the 61 percent figure sounds suspiciously low. Only a plurality of 37 percent of the poll’s respondents believe the president lies “most of the time,” with another 24 percent who will only go so far as to say he lies “some of the time,” and we’re left wondering what the rest could possibly be thinking.
Just off the top of our head we can recall the president assuring Americans that they if they liked their health care plans that they could keep them under Obamacare, that the average American family would save $2,500 a year on his premiums, and that all Americans would be covered. We remember a campaign promise that his health care reforms would not include an individual mandate, along with promises that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any sort of tax increase, that the irresponsible and un-patriotic deficits of the Bush administration would be halved with four years, and that after too many years of drone strikes and interventions America’s international standing would be restored by smart diplomacy. There was that whopper on the late night comedy show about the murderous attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi being a spontaneous reaction to some obscure YouTube video, and the whole bit about al Qaeda being on the run, the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups being the work of a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, and talk of the “most transparent administration ever,” and if we were inclined to spend the next several days on Google we’re sure we could come up a long list of other things that can be described as blatant lies.
Die-hard apologists for the administration could probably come up with numerous examples of the president being more or less honest, and if you count all his idle chit-chat about the weather and sleeping time they might even make a case that his lies don’t fill “most of the time,” but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could think they don’t take up at last “some of the time.” Another 20 percent allowed only that the president lies “now and then,” which seems overly generous, and 15 percent insist the president “never” lies, which seems downright worshipful and ridiculous. It’s been a couple of millennia since there was anyone on Earth who never lied, and the president clearly is not the second coming of that fellow.
The same poll shows the president’s approval rating at 42 percent with only 51 percent disapproving, so apparently there is a large number of Americans who believe he is a liar but don’t mind. We’ve even met a few earnest liberals who have offered apparently sincere explanations that the lies were told in the service of some greater good, such as foisting a health care reform law on the country that doesn’t keep any of its promises but screws things up badly enough to make an even worse single-payer system possible, and they clearly believe they are justified in telling further lies. They are acting out of deeply-felt affection for the average working American, as they explain it, and apparently the poor fellows are just stupid to handle the truth.
The latest poll shows that 39 percent of Americans haven’t yet figured out that the president lies somewhere been “most” and “some” of the time, so maybe those earnest liberals are on to something.

— Bud Norman

Pursuing a Dream

Those prolific folks at the Congressional Budget Office have written up yet another installment in their annual “Budget and Economic Outlook” series, and it might be their best work yet. That’s high praise, given how the president used to gush about the non-partisan brilliance of these eyeshade-wearing savants of the bureaucracy, but their latest look at Obamacare really is quite a read.
In a taut 175 pages of impeccable public policy prose, including the numerous charts and tables and citations of sources and such, the report lays out all the sorry facts about the nation’s fiscal health. This has been a recurring theme of the series for so long now that it’s become too boring to prompt comment, but the parts about Obamacare offer an intriguing if somewhat predictable plot twist. To hear the CBO boys tell it, the law isn’t working out well.
The report projects that the law will result in the loss of 2.5 million full-time equivalent jobs in the next decade, leave 31 million people still without health insurance but paying for the privilege, add $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit, cause millions of Americans to lose the health insurance plans that they liked, and wind up costing the average American money out of his paycheck. Given that the law’s eponymous president repeatedly promised that it would spur economic activity, insure everyone, wouldn’t add a single dime to the deficit, anyone who liked his health insurance plan could keep it, and the average American would wind up with an extra $2,500 in his paycheck, it seems fair to say that things aren’t going as intended.
Back when the president was making such preposterous promises on behalf of Obamacare he had CBO reports to back them up, all based on the equally preposterous presumptions the agency was forced to proceed from, which is probably why he used to gush about its non-partisan brilliance. The latest report is based on assumptions more closely resembling reality, and is therefore less to the president’s liking, but all that past praise forced the White House to carefully interpret rather haughtily dismiss the CBO’s conclusion.
By far the most entertaining portion of White House spokesman Jay Carney’s juggling act was his insistence that the 2.5 million lost jobs is proof the law’s unexpected success. After correctly noting that the report does not blame the job losses on disincentives for employers to provide jobs, and without noting that it also said such an effect might well occur when the delayed employer-mandate at last kicks in after the mid-term elections, Carney seemed proud that CBO found the initial job losses would result from Obamacare’s disincentives for employees to accept low-wage jobs rather than relinquish their health care subsidies and other benefits. As Carney thus explains it, those 2.5 million lost jobs mean “Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families, and would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Any Americans who don’t dream of a life of care-free welfare dependency probably wouldn’t put it in such poetic terms, but at this point they likely comprise only a small share of the Democratic votership. It remains to be seen how the economy will fare under the guidance of an administration that takes such pride in lost jobs, and we’ll be looking forward to next year’s installment in the “Budget and Economic Outlook” to find out.

— Bud Norman

The Privilege of Paying

One has to admire the steadfastness, if nothing else, of the president’s most die-hard supporters. Lately they must feel like Millerites on the day after the world was supposed to end, still insisting despite The Great Disappointment that all the prophecies were true.
The unfolding Obamacare debacle is especially testing for the true believer’s faith, as it is has now become indisputable that millions who liked their insurance plan their doctors won’t be able to keep them, most will see increased costs rather than a $2,500 annual windfall, millions will remain uninsured, at least one dime will be added to the national debt, and none of the other grandiose promises will ever be kept. Some will go right ahead and dispute it, insisting that it’s all lies told by hateful racists intent on preventing the president from heroically saving the country, but these days even the non-Fox media are reporting the bad news and there are more people with very authentic-looking cancellation letters than could possibly be in on even the vastest right-wing conspiracy. A more inventive apologetics is now required to justify the prophesy of hope and change, and the more inventive apologists seem to have seized on the argument people just don’t realize how lucky they are.
Consider the case of poor Lori Gottlieb, who recently penned an op-ed piece for the notoriously right-wing New York Times to lament that Obamacare had caused her to lose the insurance plan she liked and was promised she could keep and has forced her to pay an extra $5,400 a year for a plan that includes maternity coverage and other features she does not need. Her bigger gripe, though, was that when she posted her complaints on Facebook she found little sympathy for her plight and instead was peppered with comments that she was a selfish shrew who should be grateful for the privilege of contributing to a system that will provide quality medical care to everyone. Gottlieb is apparently a committed liberal, judging by the Facebook friends she keeps and the fact that she doesn’t dispute the preposterous premise that everyone will now be getting quality medical care, but she’s not so commited that she’s willing to shell out an extra $5,400 a year for utopia and she seems rather disappointed that her fellow liberals aren’t a bit more sympathetic to her own workingman’s plight.
Some of the professional Democrats trotted out the same appeal to altruism a while back, but it seems to have polled poorly or the focus groups didn’t like it as they have since moved on to inflating their enrollment numbers and downplaying the technical problems and dismissing all those part time jobs as anecdotal evidence and otherwise insisting that things are not so bad as they might seem. Trying to tell the likes of Lori Gottlieb that she should be happy to cough up a sizeable chun of her family’s income for a system that is going to lower the quality of medical care for everyone and leave millions uninsured was always going to be difficult, and the true believers’ continued efforts to do so reek of desperation.

— Bud Norman

When the Truth Arrives in the Mail

How do you get your news? Some stubbornly old-fashioned folks still read it from the smudgy ink on the cut-rate paper that mysteriously arrives every morning on the driveway, and some are even so hidebound they continue to get it from the early evening newscasts that the broadcast networks still provide by force of habit. The more up-to-date among us now stay informed on the internet, where a variety of sites such as this one provide news and commentary suited to the reader’s preferred prejudices, or settle for the “tweet”-sized opinions of their slight acquaintances on social media. These days most people seem find the half-hourly news updates on the pop radio stations sufficient to keep them well-informed, or they try to infer what’s going on from the jokes on The Daily Show or the other late-night comedy programs, or they do their best to avoid the news altogether.
Almost all of these options tend to reiterate the liberal point of view, except to those daring souls who venture to dissident sites such as this one, but conservatives can take solace in knowing that every person still gets a heavy dose of irrefutable reality to counteract this in his mailbox. This explains the continuing and increasing unpopularity of Obamacare, which sounds great when reading about it in the newspapers or hearing about on the newscasts, but no longer seems as appealing when the costs at last show up in an official envelope. The President of the United States continues to assure the public that health insurance costs will go down as a result of the law, and that everyone satisfied with their current arrangements will be able to keep them, but no matter how many times he repeats the claims nor how many times the various media corroborate them millions of Americans will be more inclined to believe the bottom line of the bill that has arrived in the mail.
So many people have lately received contradictory information about Obamacare in the mail, with hefty payment demanded by the end of the month, that the cold, hard facts have begun to seep into even the most Obama-obeisant news reports. It’s gotten to the point that such an impeccably liberal publication as The San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper that still survives by its steadfast effort to shield its liberal Bay Area readership from any facts that might challenge its most cherished assumptions, was forced to acknowledge that not everyone will be pleased with Obamacare’s results. In an article headlined “Obamacare’s Winners and Losers in Bay Area” the newspaper struggled mightily to find a few sympathetic winners, but could not avoid interviewing some formerly enthusiastic losers.
The San Jose Mercury’s tiny minority of right-wing readers will have to be forgiven the schadenfreude they no doubt felt when reading about two die-hard Obama supporters admit that their health care costs will rise and their health care services decline as a result of the hilariously-named “Affordable Care Act.” One of the interviewees will see her health insurance costs increase by $1,800 a year, which she considers a significant amount for someone of her modest income, while another more affluent liberal will be forced to cough up an extra $10,000 per annum, which is a sizeable sum even by the standards of a well-heeled Bay Area liberal. Neither are yet willing to recant their devotion to the president or his historic legislative achievement, but both begrudgingly admit to nagging doubts with some quotes that conservatives will cherish.
“I was laughing at (House Speaker John) Boehner — until the mail came today,” said Tom Waschura, the 52-year-old self-employed engineer who received notice of the $10,000 price hike. “I really don’t like the Republican tactics, but at least now I can understand why they are so pissed about this. When you take $10,000 out of my family’s pocket each year, that’s otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not being going into our local economy.” An even more satisfying quote came from Cindy Vinson, the 60-year-old retired teacher stuck with the extra $1,800 deduction from her fixed income, who said “Of course I want people to have health care, I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”
To compound its journalistic heresy, The San Jose Mercury News also quotes a couple of health insurance experts who confirm that these are not mere anecdotes but examples of a much larger trend. One of the experts assures that “There’s going to be a number of people” receiving such rate shocks, and another explains that “The upper middle-class are the people who are essentially being asked to foot the bill, and that’s true across the country.” With 60-year-old retired teachers in the pricey Bay Area now included among the “upper middle class,” it will likely be a very large percentage of the country finding that the presidential promises will go unfulfilled.
The president and his press will continue to repeat those promises, but even Bay Area liberals are more likely to believe what they find in the mail. Any congressional Republicans thinking of going wobbly on the shut-down battle because of the negative would do well to remember this.

— Bud Norman

Another Conspiracy Confirmed

All of the right-wing wackos, including ourselves, have long suspected Obamacare is intended to so thoroughly wreck the American health care system that the public will at last accept a Canadian-style single payer system. Several left-wing wackos of our acquaintance think so, too, but regard it as a delightful trick to be played on their fellow citizens. More sensible people have regarded this as a far-fetched conspiracy, reasonably believing that no one in government would ever attempt such an audacious and unlikely ploy, but now we see that Sen. Harry Reid has made a full confession.
The Senate’s majority leader, who did much to push the legislation into law despite widespread public opposition, even after voters in ultra-liberal Massachusetts went so far as to elect a Republican to stop him, gave up the game during a public television appearance in his home state of Nevada. “What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid said. When asked if the meant the country would have a system without private insurance, he answered “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.”
There will likely be more of this sort of talk as the failure of Obamacare becomes ever more apparent with its haphazard and selective implementation. The law was imposed on an unwitting public with plenty of grand promises that everyone would at last have health insurance, premiums would go down, the national debt wouldn’t go up, no one’s existing coverage would be effected, employment would flourish, and all that talk about rationing and “death panels” was just a lie told by hateful people, but that’s getting harder for likes of Reid to say with a straight face. Our government now concedes that tens of millions will remain uninsured and pay for the privilege, premiums are rising in most states and are forecast to further rise, Congressional Budget Office projections made after all the accounting gimmicks expired show a dramatic cost increase, millions are going to lose their employer-provided policies, a delay in the employer mandate until after the mid-term elections acknowledges that it is driving a trend toward part-time jobs, and even such Democratic heroes as John Dean are publicly fretting about the law’s rationing board. No longer able to deny the facts that are showing up monthly in people’s mailboxes, Obamacare’s defenders are forced to talk of what comes next.
There will be efforts to blame it all on the Republicans, of course, and Obamacare’s eponymous president has already declared that opposition to the bill is motivated solely by some sick desire to deny people health care, but as the poll numbers for the law worsen with each passing day this will be harder to sell. Even with a billion-dollar advertising budget it is difficult to convince a majority of Americans that they are mean people who want others to die. Better to argue that greedy corporations and their Republican puppets won’t simply won’t permit Obamacare’s miracles to occur, and start making grand promises about the day when the free market for health insurance is at long last vanquished. Like Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying “I meant to do that,” the laws defenders can ultimately boast that socialized medicine was what they had intended all along.
It might even work. Many people prefer to blame some rich they don’t know rather than the politicians they have voted for when things go wrong, and insurance executives make for especially appealing scapegoats. A single-payer system can be more easily explained than the complexities of a free market system, too, and its inherent flaws more easily obscured. As strange as it might seem that the public would accept more government as the solution for problems caused by government, they do it all the time, and in recent memory responded to a government-engineered financial crisis by electing candidates promising ever more government control of the economy.

Still, there are hopeful signs that it might not work. Obamacare remains unpopular despite an unprecedented public relations campaign and the best efforts of the media to demonize opponents, and the same people so over-sold the law that even most apolitical types can’t help noticing how ridiculous they are. Whatever quarrels people have had with their insurance companies will soon pale in comparison to their complaints with the government’s heavy-handed role, and that “Flo” woman from the Progressive ads now seems a far more attractive spokeswoman for her industry than Obama is for his. One should never underestimate the Republicans’ ability to waste a good issue, but failing to take advantage of their opposition to Obamacare will take some doing.

Republicans are already making an effort, of course. An internecine battle is now underway in the party between those who want to de-fund Obamacare and those who would rather let its flaws become so tangible that more Democrats will join with the unions and the red state incumbents in rushing away from the law. De-funding Obamacare is a politically risky proposition, as it will allow the law’s die-hard to defenders to spend the rest of their lives insisting that it would have worked just as promised if not for those human-hating Republicans, and if a government shut-down is the result much of the media will revert to its usual role of writing sob stories and casting blame to the right, but letting it become fully implemented poses risks to the people whose lives are dependent on a functioning health care system. We’re inclined to side to with the de-funders, but hope they’ll go about it shrewdly enough to win the battle for public opinion despite the powerful forces arrayed against them.
Whatever happens in the upcoming budget fights, Reid is quite right to believe that Obamacare won’t last forever. The most important matter, then, is that he be proved wrong about what comes afterwards.

— Bud Norman