When the dust of history settles an amateur opera singer from the 1920s may come to symbolize the American presidency of a century thence. Florence Foster Jenkins was a Pennsylvania socialite who aspired to be a diva. The trouble was she couldn’t sing a note. “From her recordings it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch or rhythm, and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Unfortunately, there was nothing McMoon could do to help conceal the glaring inaccuracy of Jenkins’ intonation: the notes she sang were consistently flat and their pitch deviated from the sheet music by as much as a semitone. Her dubious diction, especially in foreign languages, is also noteworthy. Additionally, the technically challenging songs she performed, requiring levels of musical skill far beyond her ability and vocal range, served only to emphasize these deficiencies.”
However, her reputation was very skilfully burnished by what would today be termed spin-doctoring. “Despite the vocal and musical inaccuracies of her performances, which took place mostly at small salons or recital halls, Jenkins became popular for the amusement she unwittingly provided. Audience members sometimes described her technique as ‘intentionally ambiguous’, which may have served to pique public curiosity; for example, ‘Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammeled swoop of some great bird.’ Attendance at her rare recitals was by personal invitation only—and invitations were never extended to mainstream music critics. As a result, until her one public performance, at Carnegie Hall, objective critiques never appeared in the legitimate press. Favorable articles and bland reviews, published in specialty music publications such as The Musical Courier, were most likely written by her friends, or herself.”
The possibility that President Obama may not be as great as they thought has gradually dawned on the New York Times. Russell Goldman asks “Syria’s chemical weapons have been destroyed. So, why do chlorine gas attacks persist?” Maybe it was a detail Obama missed. “Using chlorine as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, but because of its widespread use for legal purposes, the substance was not included in the wholesale eradication of Syria’s chemical weapons.”
But there’s too much wrong for the audience to return calmly to their seats. A five-part article by the NYT examines the uncomfortable question of “how the Arab world came apart”. In a lush, interactive story Scott Anderson writes, “I was heartened, in the Arab Spring’s early days, by the focus of the people’s wrath … Then it all went horribly wrong.”. That fatal phrase was echoed nearly word for word by Eric Trager of the Washington Institute in relation to Egypt. “Where Did They Go Wrong?,” he asked.
It must be “they” and not “he”, for it cannot be “he”, not that is, if the faith is to survive. An impending sense of doom appears to grip Michael Rubin, writing in Newsweek. “Another war between Israel and Hezbollah is inevitable,” he notes. “Whereas in 2006 Hezbollah could strike only northern Israel, today its rockets and missiles can imperil every inch of the Jewish state. U.N. and European diplomatic guarantees turned out to be nonexistent, and U.S. diplomats ignored Hezbollah’s rearmament once headlines moved on.”
Speaking of the bargain with Tehran, it’s a deal which Peter Huessy in Real Clear Defense calls “Iran’s pretend nuclear freeze”.
The Senate and House of Representatives as well as the American people overwhelmingly thought the Iran deal is “fatally flawed.” Almost 60% of both houses of Congress voted against it, which is unprecedented for a White House initiated international agreement.
The deal gives Iran a legal path to get nuclear weapons in 11 years, not 15. The financial windfall to Iran clearly could allow significant covert purchases of nuclear weapons from North Korea, whose production capability has significantly increased over the last five years. The “deal” also shortens the time it would take Iran to acquire sufficient nuclear weapons fuel, from an assumed year to six months or even weeks, according to the former safeguards chief at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ollie Heinonen.
But if it’s an empty box it’s one for which President Obama paid a lot of money, huge amounts of it in cash. In fact “the head of the national security division at the Justice Department was among the agency’s senior officials who objected to paying Iran hundreds of millions of dollars in cash at the same time that Tehran was releasing American prisoners, according to people familiar with the discussions,” according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
John Carlin, a Senate-confirmed administration appointee, raised concerns when the State Department notified Justice officials of its plan to deliver to Iran a planeful of cash, saying it would be viewed as a ransom payment, these people said. A number of other high-ranking Justice officials voiced similar concerns as the negotiations proceeded, they said.
The U.S. paid Iran $400 million in cash on Jan. 17 as part of a larger $1.7 billion settlement of a failed 1979 arms deal between the U.S. and Iran that was announced that day. Also on that day, Iran released four detained Americans in exchange for the U.S.’s releasing from prison—or dropping charges against—Iranians charged with violating sanctions laws. U.S. officials have said the swap was agreed upon in separate talks.
The objection of senior Justice Department officials was that Iranian officials were likely to view the $400 million payment as ransom, thereby undercutting a longstanding U.S. policy that the government doesn’t pay ransom for American hostages, these people said. The policy is based on a concern that paying ransom could encourage more Americans to become targets for hostage-takers.
As the discordant notes continue to waft from the stage, it’s clear that far from shutting down foreign wars the Obama administration has become engaged all across the world. Max Fisher in the NYT writes, “Signs of trouble in Ukraine prompt question: what’s Vladimir Putin up to? When they’re done fending Putin they can move on to the war in Iraq, and the ongoing operations in Libya. Then they might pause a while in Afghanistan where the capital of Helmand province is about to fall to the Taliban as the Obama backed government falls apart before gazing across to the Pacific to where China is raising the risk of military conflict, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This was supposed to be the Age of Aquarius, so the obvious question is how did it go so wrong? The obvious answer is maybe it was never right and the public is only now finding out.
Barack Obama bids fair to be remembered as the Florence Foster Jenkins of politics. Like that socialite he can’t perform his job for beans. Like that socialite his friends are covering up for him. According to a Twitter whistleblower the social media giant’s CEO ordered the employees to protect Obama from hurtful Tweets. “According to a former senior Twitter employee, Costolo ordered employees to deploy an algorithm (which was built in-house by feeding it thousands of examples of abuse and harassing tweets) that would filter out abusive language directed at Obama. Another source said the media partnerships team also manually censored tweets, noting that Twitter’s public quality-filtering algorithms were inconsistent. Two sources told BuzzFeed News that this decision was kept from senior company employees for fear they would object to the decision.”
But the curtain has gone up and now the audience is in shock. How? How? Even the administration’s supporters were left totally surprised by the trail of disasters so intense it propelled Donald Trump to a presidential nomination. Jesse Bernstein in Tablet thinks that the root cause of the blindness was insufferable smugness of the intellectual elite. Jon Stewart’s “Culture of Ridicule”, Bernstein wrote, kept the best and the brightest from seeing the train wreck coming. “No single event or trend initiated the takeoff of Space Shuttle Trump. … but there is one culprit who … deserves his due: Jon Stewart. Let me explain. … As Emmet Rensin so perfectly put it:
Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. … Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style … and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid.
But to anyone outside the echo chamber the joke was on Stewart and his cronies. The average person could see the invidious contrast; how easily the email accounts of 100 Democratic bigwigs could be hacked, with what contemptuous ease someone could make off with the DNC’s emails, steal all the OPM records. They watched as time after time suspects “well known to the police” executed successful terror attacks in Western cities despite the assurances of the laughing men.
They saw ISIS run off with billions of dollars of foreign military aid; saw the “smartest people” in history rolled. They were regaled by the spectacle of Putin booting Obama out of the Middle East with a midget air force and a rustbucket navy. They witnessed a bunch of armed thugs torch a US consulate in Benghazi without the dying ambassador even able to make that 3 am call to Hillary Clinton. They watched Turkey wobble and Europe overrun by migrant tides.
It hit them: it was these ineffably superior people who were the jokers, the clowns whose only tangible skill was to make fun of everybody so nobody would notice that’s all they were good for. In fact the only person they could stop with any probability of success and only if they ganged up on him was Donald Trump. That was it. They can’t see the audience in darkness beyond the footlights heading for the exits.
It’s frightening and not a little sad. Wait. The high note is yet to come.
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