Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cruising the Web

President Obama seems to plumb new depths of obliviousness. Yesterday he gave an interview to Vox in which he sought to reassure thee American people about violence from those he calls zealots.
Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor's got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive. But we also have to attend to a lot of other issues, and we've got to make sure we're right-sizing our approach so that what we do isn't counterproductive.
"Random folks in a deli"? Really? He can't be bothered to note that these were not "random folks" but Jews targeted in a Kosher deli. This was not random. This was the act of a man who had pledged support for ISIS and was calling for more terrorism in France. He didn't randomly wake up and decide to shoot some people in a randomly chosen deli. This is why so many French Jews are emigrating. The President can't even articulate that anti-Semitism was the driving force behind those murders. It is not the same problem that a mayor faces in reducing the crime rate.

And then Obama earlier complained that the media (which is usually, as he tells us, his source for news about his own administration) is overstating the threat of terrorism.
Matthew Yglesias:
Do you think the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease?

Barack Obama:
Absolutely. And I don't blame the media for that. What's the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? You show crime stories and you show fires, because that's what folks watch, and it's all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that's the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs. There's just not going to be a lot of interest in a headline story that we have cut infant mortality by really significant amounts over the last 20 years or that extreme poverty has been slashed or that there's been enormous progress with a program we set up when I first came into office to help poor farmers increase productivity and yields. It's not a sexy story. And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it's a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.
In what universe does Obama exist where the media don't talk about climate change? And hasn't the President noticed that ISIS has declared war on us. What does he think will happen if they continue to have success across the Middle East?

Obama then went on to complain that he had come into office with all sorts of plans for the Middle East, but "then the Arab Spring happened" and his administration has "had to adapt, even as it’s happening in real time, to some huge changes in these societies." Yes, well that is how the world works. As Harold Macmillan may or may not have replied when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course - "Events, my dear boy, events." Whether Macmillan said it or not, it's certainly true and Obama doesn't seem to have recognized this essential truth. John Hinderaker responds,
So the Arab Spring derailed Obama’s foreign policy!

Actually, the principal crises in the Middle East have little or nothing to do with the Arab Spring. ISIS owes its existence and its rapidly extended reach not to the Arab Spring–it is anything but an Arab democracy movement–but rather, to America’s premature withdrawal from Iraq. Likewise with the downfall of Yemen’s government, which was engineered militarily by an Iran-supported group. The resurgent Taliban, like ISIS, owes nothing to the Arab Spring.

As for Iran, the region’s most intractable long-term problem, the Arab Spring did try to make an appearance there, but the pro-democracy movement was rapidly crushed, with the apparent acquiescence of the Obama administration. Nothing has changed, and Obama’s Iran policy has proceeded as planned. Whether Obama is in the process of failing or succeeding depends on what you think his goal is. He told Yglesias, as he has often said elsewhere, that the purpose of the current negotiations is to “prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” But nothing in the agreement that is being hammered out will do that; on the contrary, it will facilitate Iran’s progress toward nuclear armaments–progress that continues at this moment–combined with an ICBM capacity. One has to assume that foreseeable consequences are intended.

So Obama’s claim that his Middle Eastern policies are in disarray because of the Arab Spring, while never challenged by the Vox interviewer, is patently false.
Hinderaker suggests that Obama's words about random violence suggest a new classification to go along with its term "workplace violence" to indicate Major Hassan's attack on Fort Hood. Now we have "deli violence." Paul Mirengoff adds,
he fact is that Obama has consistently downplayed the threat posed by terrorists, only to be promptly and spectacularly discredited by events. A little over year ago, he called ISIS “the jayvee.” Not long thereafter, ISIS controlled territory in Syria and Iraq the size of Belgium, if not the United Kingdom, and Obama deployed substantial (albeit grossly insufficient) U.S. military assets to combat the jayvee.

Iraq and Syria aren’t the only hot spots in which Obama has been mugged by reality. In the speech announcing his decision finally to take on ISIS, Obama touted America’s success in “taking the fight” to al Qaeda in Yemen. Even as he spoke, the situation in Yemen was deteriorating, leaving our ability to “take the fight” to al Qaeda in serious doubt.

Obama, then, has no standing to opine on whether the media is “overstating” the threat posed by terrorism. Nor, as noted, does he offer any evidence that supports the view that it’s doing so.

The media dutifully reports (1) Obama’s assessments of the terrorist threat and (2) terrorist events and successes. The juxtaposition isn’t flattering to Obama, but that’s not the media’s fault.

Jack Shafer writes at Politico on the inherent weaknesses of such presidential interviews when the interviewer's main goal is to "explain" the President's policies.
In the example of Klein and Yglesias, they’re less interested in interviewing Obama than they are in explaining his policies. Again and again, they serve him softball—no, make that Nerf ball—questions and then insert infographics and footnotes that help advance White House positions. Vox has lavished such spectacular production values on the video version of the Obama interview—swirling graphics and illustrations, background music (background music!?), aggressive editing, multiple camera angles—that the clips end up looking and sounding like extended commercials for the Obama-in-2016 campaign. I’ve seen subtler Scientology recruitment films.
Explainer journalism, as practiced by Klein, purports to break down complex policy issues into laymen-friendly packages that are issued from the realm of pure reason. But as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry succinctly put it last summer in The Week, “Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise” that “often looks more like a right-wing caricature of what a partisan media outlet dressed up as an explainer site would look like.”

As a sometime partisan commenter, I venerate partisan commentary because it can cut through the protective Styrofoam cladding politicians love to wrap their messages in. But if you’re going to be partisan about your journalism, if you’re going to give the president an easy ride, you’ve got to be clean about it! You can’t pretend, as Klein did when he founded Vox, that you’re taking a neutral approach to news and that all you’re doing is making the news “vegetables” more palatable by roasting them to “perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt.” Klein and Yglesias are like two Roman curia cardinals who want us to believe their exclusive interview with the pope is on the level.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/02/vox-interview-barack-obama-115033.html#ixzz3RLFDrru7

Judge Laurence Silberman rejects those who are still peddling the line that Bush lied to involve us in the war with Iraq. He should know because he served as co-chairman of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction to examine the intelligence that Bush and other leaders, including members of Congress, saw in the lead up to the war.
Our WMD commission ultimately determined that the intelligence community was “dead wrong” about Saddam’s weapons. But as I recall, no one in Washington political circles offered significant disagreement with the intelligence community before the invasion. The National Intelligence Estimate was persuasive—to the president, to Congress and to the media.

Granted, there were those who disagreed with waging war against Saddam even if he did possess WMD. Some in Congress joined Brent Scowcroft, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and former national security adviser, in publicly doubting the wisdom of invading Iraq. It is worth noting, however, that when Saddam was captured and interrogated, he told his interrogators that he had intended to seek revenge on Kuwait for its cooperation with the U.S. by invading again at a propitious time. This leads me to speculate that if the Bush administration had not gone to war in 2003 and Saddam had remained in power, the U.S. might have felt compelled to do so once Iraq again invaded Kuwait.

In any event, it is one thing to assert, then or now, that the Iraq war was ill-advised. It is quite another to make the horrendous charge that President Bush lied to or deceived the American people about the threat from Saddam.
Silberman particularly calls out Ron Fournier for repeating that Bush lied us into the war. Fournier owes us an apology. And telling the truth is particularly important for future policy makers. If decisions in the future are going to be based on a faulty understanding of historical events, we are all going to be the worse for it.
The charge is dangerous because it can take on the air of historical fact—with potentially dire consequences. I am reminded of a similarly baseless accusation that helped the Nazis come to power in Germany: that the German army had not really lost World War I, that the soldiers instead had been “stabbed in the back” by politicians.

Sometime in the future, perhaps long after most of us are gone, an American president may need to rely publicly on intelligence reports to support military action. It would be tragic if, at such a critical moment, the president’s credibility were undermined by memories of a false charge peddled by the likes of Ron Fournier.

Eva Moskowitz takes down the critics she faces as head of a very successful set of charter schools in NYC. Critics, particularly leaders of the teachers' unions and their Democratic minions, seem to think it's fine to tell any sort of lie about charters, because it's all about the greater good in their eyes.

Victor Davis Hanson titles Obama our "Snarker-in-Chief." Hanson has compiled quite a list of Obama's mean-spirited humor. The attitude of superiority underlying all these remarks directed at both Republicans and Democrats, Americans, and foreigners reflect something truly obnoxious about Obama's view of everyone other than himself. As Hanson writes,
Critics used to say they opposed Obama’s redistributionist programs, but conceded that he must be a pleasant guy. Supporters lamented Obama’s frequent inattention to detail but reminded everyone how charismatic the president was. Both diagnoses are probably mistaken. Snarkery is a character flaw of thin-skinned insecurity and juvenile mean-spiritedness — and embarrassing in a president.

The VA is still messing up care for veterans.

Victor Davis Hanson explains how the green lobby has made the drought in California much worse. It really is a crime.

The NYT reports on the problems patients are facing under Obamacare.
The Affordable Care Act has ushered in an era of complex new health insurance products featuring legions of out-of-pocket coinsurance fees, high deductibles and narrow provider networks. Though commercial insurers had already begun to shift toward such policies, the health care law gave them added legitimacy and has vastly accelerated the trend, experts say.

The theory behind the policies is that patients should bear more financial risk so they will be more conscious and cautious about health care spending. But some experts say the new policies have also left many Americans scrambling to track expenses from a multitude of sources — such as separate deductibles for network and non-network care, or payments for drugs on an insurer’s ever-changing list of drugs that require high co-pays or are not covered at all.

For some, like Ms. Pineman, narrow networks can necessitate footing bills privately. For others, the constant changes in policy guidelines — annual shifts in what’s covered and what’s not, monthly shifts in which doctors are in and out of network — can produce surprise bills for services they assumed would be covered. For still others, the new fees are so confusing and unsupportable that they just avoid seeing doctors.

Just imagine. There are some people whose job it is to research cockroach personalities. This sounds like one of those grants that the federal government funds and then gets ridiculed by Tom Coburn for wasteful spending. I have no idea where the funding came from for this research, but I await further insights into the cockroach psyche.