All right, you’re in the Obama White House. You see that the monthly jobs report is terrible, worse than expected. The Federal Reserve is so worried about the economy that it proposes 24/7 pump-priming to jolt it out of the doldrums. A mob invades the United States embassy in Cairo, pulls down the Stars and Stripes, sets it on fire, and raises a jihadist banner in its place. The official response to this desecration is to apologize to the rioters for an anti-Muslim movie trailer that served as a pretext to attack the embassy.
A few hundred miles to the west, the U.S. ambassador to Libya is assassinated in Benghazi, along with three colleagues. American embassies are besieged in Tunisia and Yemen. The White House and the Israeli government trade barely concealed insults over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And the president insists publicly that Egypt—recipient of more than $1 billion a year in aid from the United States—is not an ally.
What to do? Well, isn’t it obvious? Attack Mitt Romney!
In The Scrapbook’s view, Governor Romney, who is running to replace President Obama in less than two months, was entirely correct to criticize the incoherent U.S. response to the Cairo debacle, to question the policies that have left us so dangerously vulnerable in the Middle East, and to suggest that the most urgent American requirement—apart from offering some semblance of leadership—is to retire Barack Obama at the end of his present term.
And yet, the primary concern of the Obama White House, and its friends and protectors in the press, has been to pretend that the bonfire of the Obama foreign policy was as nothing compared to Romney’s impertinent criticism. The New York Times was typical, accusing Romney of “dangerous ignorance” and “an extraordinary lack of presidential character.” And President Obama himself joined in to complain that “Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
Oh, please! This is not a case of diplomatic propriety, but of political damage control. It is, perhaps, understandable that the Obama White House would seek to distract attention from its numerous failures and to exhort its critics, in the name of national unity, to shut up. But that the press would join in this perversion of political etiquette is especially grotesque. Readers need only imagine what the Times would be saying if this series of mortifications, domestic and foreign, had occurred when George W. Bush was president.
For that matter, the notion that political criticism is “dangerously ignorant” when American lives have been lost on foreign soil is not only insulting, but dishonest. The Scrapbook has been searching diligently in its archives but cannot find any occasion when John Kerry or Nancy Pelosi or Al Gore or Harry Reid or John Edwards or Hillary Clinton—or then-senator Barack Obama himself—restrained themselves from rebuking the Bush White House, at a time when Americans were fighting and dying overseas, in the most violent terms.
It’s pretty hard not to have some misgivings about the increasing government surveillance of citizens, though reasonable people can disagree to what extent this is necessary to keep us safe. However, The Scrapbook would like to think that we can all agree that when the surveillance state becomes just another means of raising revenue it’s entirely pernicious.
And so it is that traffic cameras have spread like a cancer across the land. It’s revealing that the proliferation of traffic cameras seems directly proportional to the corruption and mismanagement of the local governments erecting them. In March, Washington, D.C., mayor Vincent Gray made a disturbing promise to “cover the entire city” with traffic cameras. Gray justified this by saying, “I think we need to do everything we can to protect people in the District from the negligent and irresponsible actions of others.”
That’s an interesting sentiment coming from Gray, who’s been under federal investigation for running a crooked mayoral campaign. A Washington Post poll this past July revealed that 54 percent of D.C. residents think he should resign. Unlike taxpayers who might be driving 8 mph over a 25 mph speed limit, there’s actually a reason for law enforcement authorities to monitor Gray very closely.
But again, safety is a laughable pretext when justifying traffic cameras—tellingly, Gray made his pledge to cover the city in cameras at a budget meeting. Last year, the city generated some $55 million in revenue from traffic tickets and expects to earn $30 million in additional revenue this year. Naturally, this means the city will issue even more traffic camera tickets, which is impressive when you realize that last year the city issued 462,601 traffic camera tickets in a city of 617,996 residents.
Amazingly, D.C. now has competition when it comes to overuse of traffic cameras. Prince George’s County, Maryland, borders Washington, D.C., to the east, and, not surprisingly, it too is notorious for corruption. Last year, Prince George’s county executive Jack Johnson was sentenced to seven years in prison for taking as much as a million dollars in kickbacks; Johnson’s wife was hiding an ill-gotten $79,000 in cash in her bra when the FBI arrested her.
P. G. County is also leaning heavily on traffic cameras to make up for the revenue its corrupt officials are no doubt squandering. Except that it seems that residents of P. G. County are not taking this effort to squeeze money out of them for the crime of commuting lying down.
The Washington Post reports there have been a “half dozen incidents of vandalism and general meanness toward the cameras in the county. A camera was actually shot with a gun. Another was set on fire.” But have no fear, Prince George’s County police officer Robert V. Liberati, whose official title is, and no, we’re not making this up, “Commander of the Automated Enforcement Section,” explained last week that the county has come up with a novel solution to its traffic camera vandalism problem. Commander Liberati told local radio station WTOP that they’re putting up cameras to monitor what happens to their traffic cameras.
The Scrapbook does not condone vandalism of public property, but the county’s response here does raise the question of how this Orwellian recursion is supposed to end. We’re guessing that D.C. and Prince George’s County will continue to do whatever they can to extract cash, regardless of how unfair and infuriating it is to those penalized by these proliferating cameras. The alternative would be for local officials to clean up their act and spend less money, and we all know that can’t happen.
Fact Checking the Fact Checkers
Recently, the Washington Post fact checker wrote a column examining a series of claims made by pro-life groups about Obama’s abortion record. He evaluated four pro-life claims that were found wanting, receiving from one to three “Pinocchios” for being misleading, with four being the maximum number of Pinocchios the Washington Post fact checker dispenses. The Scrapbook, you may not be surprised to hear, was underwhelmed. It long ago concluded that media “fact checkers” are inherently partisan and terrible at evaluating factual claims fairly.
But that fourth claim was interesting, and not just because it focused on Barack Obama’s mendacity. A recent campaign ad by a pro-life group pointed out that while serving in the Illinois legislature, Obama twice voted against something called the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. The original incarnation of the bill stated that “a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.” You might call this a restatement of the law against infanticide. Obama actually voted against making it illegal to kill babies outside the womb, because he feared the law would undermine abortion rights. The bill was retooled to remove the line mentioning abortion, making the second version nearly identical to the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which passed unanimously in 2002. Obama still voted against the Illinois version.
In 2008, Obama was asked about his vote by the Christian Broadcasting Network. The Washington Post fact checker quotes his response. “I hate to say that people are lying, but here’s a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported,” he said. In other words, Obama is accusing others of lying about his record while he himself is telling a very big lie.
How does the Washington Post fact checker handle this? We’re about to take the train to Pinocchio city, right? “The evidence suggests we could have awarded Four Pinocchios to the former Illinois senator for his comments to the Christian Broadcasting Network, but that interview is several years old now, and it’s not the focus of this particular column.”
Of course, we wouldn’t expect anything less than this free pass for Obama from the Washington Post’s fact checker. When it comes to abortion, some facts are just too politically inconvenient.
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
‘It’s difficult to know what to ask a rapper. It’s not unlike the difficulty (I imagine) of being a rapper. Whatever you say must be considered from at least three angles, and it’s an awkward triangulation. In one corner you have your hard-core hip-hop heads; the type for whom . . . ” (Zadie Smith, New York Times, September 9).