Views on the News

Views on the News*

  September 17, 2016


Apparently Obama is veering even further to the left, in hopes of establishing a rhetorical progressive legacy in lieu of any lasting legislative or foreign policy achievement.  Turning the Presidency into an edgy soapbox is seemingly all that is left of Obama's promise to "fundamentally transform" the country.  Divisive sermonizing and the issuing of executive orders are not the same as successfully reforming our health care system.  The Affordable Care Act, born of exaggeration and untruth, is now in peril as insurers pull out and the costs of premiums and deductibles soar.  Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not really defending the Obama administration's past "red line" in Syria, the "reset" with Vladimir Putin's Russia, the bombing of Libya, the Benghazi tragedy, the euphemistic rebranding of Islamic terrorism as mere "violent extremism," the abrupt pullout from (and subsequent collapse of) Iraq, or the Iran nuclear deal that so far seems to have made the theocracy both rich and emboldened.  The U.S. economy, with its record-low growth, record national debt, near-record labor non-participation rates, and record consecutive years of zero interest rates, is not much of a legacy either.  Racial relations in this country seem as bad as they have been in a half-century.  Given the scandal involving Hillary Clinton's use of a private, unsecured email server for official State Department communications, the politicization of the IRS, the messes at the GSA and VA, and the current ethical confusion at the FBI and Justice Department over Clinton's violations, Obama has not made good on his promise of a transparent, efficient and honest government.  Near energy independence through fracking is certainly a revolutionary development, but it arrived largely despite, not because of, the Obama administration.  The sharper the sermon, the more Obama preps himself for his post-Presidency as a social justice warrior, akin to the pre-political incarnation of Obama as a community organizer.  The Presidential legacy of Barack Obama will be viewed as an outspoken progressive who left office loudly in the same manner that he entered it, as a critic of the culture and country in which he has thrived.  There may be another, unspoken legacy of Obama, and it is his creation of the candidacy of Donald J. Trump.  Trump is running as an angry populist, fueled by the promise that whatever supposed elites such as Obama have done to the country, he will largely undo.  Obama's only legacy seems to be that "hope and change" begat "make America great again."

(“The Legacies of Barack Obama” by Victor Davis Hanson dated September 15, 2016 published by Town Hall at http://townhall.com/columnists/victordavishanson/2016/09/15/the-legacies-of-barack-obama-n2218036 )

President Obama wants his administration to be the capstone of a century-long, progressive project.  He wants to consolidate the federal government's control over key aspects of our lives and prove, once and for all, that the country would be better off.  Only eight months after taking office, he took his focus off the economy and put it on what he hoped would be his single biggest domestic achievement: healthcare reform.  It's clear he saw himself as the latest in a long line of progressive leaders. This certainly explains the sheer breadth of issues he tried to take on, whether it was cap-and-trade or immigration or gun control. He wanted to lock in progressivism's gains.  His ultimate legacy will be demonstrating that progressivism in practice just doesn't work.  Start with the healthcare bill.  When he was running for office, Obama promised that it would cover every American and cut the typical family's premium by up to $2,500 a year.  Despite the American people's clear disapproval, he rammed the bill through a Democrat-led Congress.  Six years later, there are still 33 million people without insurance, and the average family's premium has risen by almost $5,000 since 2008.  Millions of people's insurance plans were canceled, forcing them to change coverage, and there's been a pronounced consolidation in the industry as hospital chains gobble up small clinics and doctor's offices.  We've also seen consolidation in the banking industry.  Since Dodd-Frank became law, our country has lost on average one community financial institution per day.  There are now fewer than 6,500 banks in total, the lowest level since the Great Depression.  Dodd-Frank's regulations have not helped the American people.  Before Dodd-Frank, 75% of banks offered free checking. Two years later, only 39% did.  This finance industry consolidation is all part of the progressive vision.  Free enterprise and local communities are just too messy and unreliable to solve problems.  Instead, you need a big government to control big business, both of which must be run by a small, select elite, "the experts."  This vision is very impatient with the checks and balances of the Constitution, so the President has routinely run around Congress and tried to enforce his policies through executive orders.  The President likes to brag that "we're in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history," but what he doesn't mention is that this recovery has also been historically weak.  He can point to a low unemployment rate, but it doesn't include the near-record high of 94 million people out of the work force.  For all the tax hikes and reckless spending and red tape, America is not better off.  In more and more areas of American life, President Obama has given government the starring role and pushed the people into the wings.  He might consider this a success, but here's the true measure of progressivism: After eight years of it, the vast majority of Americans say we're on the wrong track.

(“Obama and the true measure of progressivism” by Paul Ryan dated September 11, 2016 published by Washington Examiner at http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/paul-ryan-op-ed-obama-and-the-true-measure-of-progressivism/article/2601345 )

While Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump loom horrifyingly larger, can we spare a little horror as U.S. President Barack Obama looms ever smaller?  I’m alarmed at a series of recent foreign policy humiliations showing just how badly the incredible shrinking President has damaged America’s standing in this turbulent world of ours.  First, emerging from the back door of Air Force One at the G20 in China after local functionaries literally denied him a red carpet.  Second, begging Russian President Vladimir Putin for help on Syria and getting chlorine gas.  Third, being told off by the president of Turkey over American support for Kurds in Syria.  Fourth, being cussed out by the president of the Philippines.  It is literally impossible to imagine any of these humiliations happening to former presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush or Richard Nixon, but Obama managed all four.  While he did cancel his meeting with the appalling Filipino president, he seemed to treat the rest as no big deal.  Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism and his attitude is contagious.  Last Labor Day, once again bypassing the legislature by executive order in contempt of America’s proud constitutional tradition, Obama sneered: “Right now we are the only advanced nation on Earth that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. Think about that.”  I’ll think that for 200 years Americans were proud of being a nation conceived in liberty, whose government did not meddle endlessly in citizens’ affairs, including their relationship with their employers.  Obama prefers to follow the Europeans’ statist lead.  Then there were his recent remarks in Laos, while pledging substantial financial aid to clean up American munitions left over from the Vietnam War that too many Americans were too lazy to learn about the world or do anything about the environment and his country would be left behind if it didn’t learn economic lessons from Laos.  There is no doubt the American capacity for humility and restraint, including in foreign affairs, is one of its hidden strengths.  When the nation gets overbearing, over-committed and annoying, as it did under George W. Bush, it is wholesome to produce presidents who sincerely regret both the behavior and the attitude and act to correct it in front of the whole world.  As with Carter, it’s easy to take it too far and turn it into obtuse, counterproductive groveling.  Putin blew him a chlorinated raspberry on Syria.  He sincerely believes a little more humble empathy will dissolve genuine conflicts of interest with these murderous tyrants on his terms.  The Obama administration is engaged in an increasingly desperate effort to broker a deal with Russia for a ceasefire that would halt bombing on Aleppo.  It never crosses Obama’s mind that America is in the right and should be tougher.  When he came to office, he immediately won the Nobel Peace Prize for being… the first black President? A snooty professor? Really left wing? Nobody’s quite sure. Then he rebooted relations with the Muslim world and Russia before ending America’s wars, closing Guantanamo and saving the planet from climate change, except none of them worked.  Obama’s policies don’t work because good intentions without sound methods are just sanctimonious, and humility without purpose is just groveling.

(“Barack Obama: The incredible shrinking president” by John Robson dated September 12, 2016 published by National Post at http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/john-robson-on-barack-obama-the-incredible-shrinking-president )


When Barack Obama promised to "fundamentally (transform) the United States of America," he didn’t expect the treatment he received.  When Air Force One landed in China last week for the G-20 Summit, Chinese authorities didn't wheel out the usual staircase for the President to disembark, requiring him to exit through an opening in the back of the enormous aircraft.  The president of the Philippines, long considered a U.S. ally, called him a name family publications usually don't print.  It's rare for an American President to be treated with such contempt.  It's what happens when you draw red lines and do nothing when people step over them.  His two most transformational policy initiatives, as identified by his foreign policy staffer Ben Rhodes: ObamaCare at home and the Iran nuclear deal abroad  have had disappointing results.  Consider Obamacare: "Insurers are pulling out of the exchanges and premiums are rising."  Fewer people are uninsured, but mostly because they're shoved into bare bones Medicaid-type plans, which some studies indicate don't improve health outcomes.  We may be seeing death spirals, with higher premiums making healthy people drop coverage until only the very sick buy policies.  One reason for ObamaCare's problems is that it was jammed through Congress in defiance of public opinion and contrary to legislative regular order.  In December, the Senate, with Democrats' 60-vote supermajority, had passed a placeholder measure with plenty of wrinkles to be ironed out.  With the 60th vote gone, their options were to jam that bill through a reluctant House or to drop back and negotiate with Republicans on a more limited alternative.  Politicians have to act without the luxury of knowing the future.  ObamaCare has been tested in hundreds of polls since it became law in March 2010, and in just about every one, pluralities and usually majorities have expressed negative feelings about the law.  That helped Republicans win majorities in the House in 2010, 2012 and 2014, majorities unwilling to change the law in ways Democrats would like.  Obama's gamble that the law would work as he hoped and promised has failed to date.  Health insurance markets and health care delivery have been transformed, but not fundamentally and not sustainably.  Incomplete is the best mark conceivable for Obama's other attempt at fundamental transformation, the Iran nuclear deal.  It's part of his basic approach of spurning traditional allies and courting traditional enemies.  Iran extracted concession after concession in lengthy negotiations Obama and John Kerry said they'd never make.  It's obvious that Iran's extremists have not given up on their goal of obtaining nuclear weapons, deliverable to Israel, India, Europe and maybe beyond.  The best the deal's defenders can say is that it delays the process.  The Iran deal lacked and lacks majority support from the public and in Congress.  All signs are that Iran remains an obdurate enemy, supporting terrorists and spreading its influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf.  America's traditional friends in the region are looking for other sources of support.  That seems the case in Asia as well. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, intended to bolster America's regional lead role, now looks dead, as both major-party Presidential nominees oppose it.  It is hard to believe that Obama can be proud of his fundamental transformation.

(“How’s That Fundamental Transformation going?” by Michael Barone dated September 13, 2016 published by Town Hall at http://townhall.com/columnists/michaelbarone/2016/09/13/hows-that-fundamental-transformation-going-n2216847 )

We live in two Americas.  One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world.  It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth.  The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system.  This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture.  It cannot differentiate between lies and truth.  It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés.  It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection.  This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.  There are over 42 million American adults, 20% of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level.  Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate.  Their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year, but even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence.  A third of high school graduates, along with 42% of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school.  Eighty percent of the families in the U.S. last year did not buy a book.  The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information.  American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives.  Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology.  Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation.  Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal.  They thrust us into an eternal present.  They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia.  It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives.  We prefer happy illusions.  It works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates.  We confuse how we feel with knowledge.  The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless.  They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools.  They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies.  They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers.  They are hostages to brands.  Brands come with images and slogans.  Images and slogans are all they understand.  Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus.  And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures.  This is our brave new world!

(“America the Illiterate” by Chris Hedges dated September 11, 2016 published by Straight Line Logic at https://straightlinelogic.com/2016/09/11/america-the-illiterate-by-chris-hedges/ )

Fifteen years after the September 11th attacks, the battle against terrorism is far from over.  The threat we face today is arguably worse than the one we confronted in 2001.  Certainly, we have not suffered another catastrophic attack on the scale of 9/11 thanks to progress in reforming how we protect the homeland.  Intelligence sharing among federal agencies as well as with their state and local counterparts, sorely lacking before 9/11, is now the norm. Commercial aviation, ports and other critical infrastructure are better protected. The people involved in protecting the country deserve our gratitude.  Even so, we have been unable to prevent all terrorist attacks in the United States.  Globally, terrorism has also intensified. According to the Global Terrorism Index, terrorist activity reached its highest recorded level in 2014, the last year with available data, with 32,685 terrorist-caused deaths.  In 2001, that figure barely exceeded 5,000.  Out of 162 countries studied, 93 have suffered a terrorist attack.  These are not just the internal problems of distant lands.  Our focus cannot solely be on our own homeland.  Terrorism might not pose an existential challenge to the United States, but it is a spreading disease eating away at the foundation of the free, open and lawful international system and the alliances that the U.S. depends on for its prosperity and security.  Terrorists target public spaces, international air travel and cyberspace, while seeking weapons of mass destruction.  Terrorism’s toll on our homeland, on the vibrant democracies of our European allies, on the stability of our Middle Eastern partners, and on the security of the global commons is alarming.  Even when America is not the target, terrorism is a strategic threat we must confront.  The approach of the past 15 years, dominated by military counterterrorism operations, will not suffice.  Our strategy must match our means to two ends: dismantling networks and prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism.  We have yet to match our military might with an equal focus on the ideological aspects of the struggle. This threat will not diminish.  Advanced by deft use of the media, deeply rooted organizations, exploitation of economic and political grievances, and with support from certain governments, the ideological landscape of the Muslim world is inundated with extremist narratives. These radical perversions of Islam might not condone violence, but they crowd out mainstream, tolerant and pluralistic ideas.  The prevalence of even non-violent extremism can also acclimate communities to the siren song of terrorism.  The evidence of this link between extremist beliefs and terrorism is ample.  A British government review of the Muslim Brotherhood found that, while the group itself might not be involved in terrorism, both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism.  As long as extremist voices persist in Muslim societies, the distance between socially acceptable beliefs and violence will always be far too short.  The United States cannot and should not impose our way of life or system of government on other countries.  We can and must use all the elements of national power: diplomatic, economic, cultural, informational and technological, to proclaim our values.  We must empower those who also believe in the rule of law, freedom, tolerance for diversity and broadly shared economic prosperity. This effort cannot solely come from America.  We will need the help of Muslim allies and communities.  We cannot risk another decade-and-a-half of policies that do not reduce the terrorist threat.  Changing the worldview of societies is a long and difficult process, but it provides the only hope of quelling the terrorist threat.  The post-9/11 era has spanned two terms of both Republican and Democrat administrations.  The challenge of keeping our country safe will be inherited by whomever is elected President in November, so a bipartisan approach will be essential; no one political party has a monopoly on the talent, imagination or ideas necessary to defeat our terrorist enemies.

(“9/11 Commission chairmen: Terror threat worse now than in 2001” by Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton dated September 11, 2016 published by USA Today at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/09/09/terrorism-world-trade-pentagon-twin-towers-911-commission-kean-hamilton-column/89978558/ )

This war has gone on for a very long time, and on the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 jihad attacks, among all the reminiscences, and eulogies, and encomia, virtually no one attempted to explain why.  There’s a simple reason this topic wasn’t discussed: among our political and media “elites,” no one knows the answer.  General Petraeus said in 2010 that it could take another ten years to defeat the Afghan “insurgency.”  In 2007, Britain’s security chief, Admiral Lord Alan West, said it could take 30 years to defeat terrorism in the United Kingdom.  Nothing whatsoever is being done anywhere to change the mind-set and focus of people, and that is precisely why, fifteen years after 9/11, the West is weaker and more vulnerable than ever.  The entirety of Western intelligentsia, the totality of our political and media elites, steadfastly refuses to acknowledge what the “mindset and thought” of the terrorists really is, and where it comes from.  Because of that refusal, policies that don’t deal with the actual problem keep being applied and re-applied, at the cost of thousands of American lives, billions of American dollars, and we have nothing to show for this expenditure besides a sharp and continuing loss of American power and prestige.  The jihadis who struck the U.S. on September 11, 2001 have made such immense advances since not because they are strong, or clever, or capable, but because we are weak, short-sighted, and resolute.  Resolute not in fighting them, but we maintain our denial about who they are and what they want.  The denial is so complete that we have taken many steps to actually enable them to achieve their goals: the billions gifted to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the welcoming of the massive Muslim migrant influx are just two of the most recent examples.  The media preoccupation today is almost entirely with Muslims as victims.  After Fort Hood, and Boston, and Garland, and Chattanooga, and San Bernardino, and Orlando, and Paris, and Brussels, and Nice, and so very many others, this myopia is ludicrous to the point of being grotesque.  It is the key reason why this war drags on, fifteen years after 9/11: millions unthinkingly accept the dogma that to speak honestly and accurately about the jihadis’ motives and goals is to descend into “racism” and “bigotry,” and to endanger innocent Muslims.  Fifteen years after jihadis murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, it is still almost unheard-of for there to be an honest discussion of jihadi motives and goals in the mainstream.  The free West is dug in: wholeheartedly committed to denial, willful ignorance, and policies that are self-defeating to the point of suicidal. In light of that, the wonder is not that this war has lasted so long, but that we have held out so long.  Unless the political landscape changes considerably and this denial is decisively rejected and discarded, much darker days are coming.

(“Why the War on Terror Has Taken 15 Years, and Will Take Much Longer” by Robert Spencer dated September 14, 2016 published by PJ Media at https://pjmedia.com/homeland-security/2016/09/14/why-the-war-on-terror-has-taken-15-years-and-will-take-much-longer/ )


There is so much published each week that unless you search for it, you will miss important breaking news.  I try to package the best of this information into my “Views on the News” each Saturday morning.  No updates have been made this week to the issue sections.


David Coughlin

Hawthorne, NY