Amid a backlash to the Bergdahl-for-terrorists-and-a-jihad-to-be-named-later exchange that almost certainly was unanticipated by the White House, President Obama maintained today that the choice was right and righteous and above criticism.

“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,” Mr. Obama said during a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron following the G-7 summit in Brussels, Belgium.

The president’s words and tone reminded me of an appearance he made on Jon Stewart’s show shortly before the 2010 midterm elections in which his party got hammered.

Stewart and he bantered back and forth, with Stewart challenging him for not governing more from the left—that is to say, keeping more of his campaign promises.

Then Stewart asked him about his top economic adviser, Larry Summers, who had just left his post as director of the National Economic Council. “In fairness,” Obama said testily, [he] “did a heck of a job.”

That brought a laugh and admonishment from Stewart, who was thinking of President Bush’s patently dumb defense of former FEMA head Michael Brown, the man Bush had claimed was doing a “heck of a job” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart told Obama as the audience roared.

But instead of laughing along at his unintentional echo of a famously stupid moment, Obama bristled defensively—then lied:

“Pun intended,” he insisted.

No, it wasn’t intended. That’s clear. If it had been intended, he would’ve been criticizing Summers, not defending him. The fact that he couldn’t himself see the contradiction was revealing.

Our president can’t stand to think that anyone considers him less than perfect. And he believes that the give and take of a democracy is somehow a slight directed personally at him.

Not even Jimmy Carter’s skin was as thin as Barack Obama’s. His prickliness and cock certainty won’t allow for a sense of irony, a quality without which any chief executive is doomed to fail. Q.E.D.

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President Obama, sounding the clarion on climate change, plans to take action against this heinous enemy:

President Barack Obama said the curbs on carbon emissions to combat climate change that his administration plans to unveil next week will also help address a growing threat to the nation’s health. . . .

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to announce a plan to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants on June 2. The two-tired regulation will seek reductions in greenhouse gases of as much as 25 percent over 15 years, according to people familiar with the proposal.

Here’s my question: What good does unilateral action by the U.S. do if the rest of the developed and developing world doesn’t also act? A key word in anthropogenic global warming is global, so our carbon reduction alone will do squat unless China, India, etc., join in; and of course, they won’t, because they want to catch up to our standard of living.

But then, call me a skeptic—nay, a denier. I don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change or global warming or whatever today’s proper term is. Why? Well, as a rational human I would believe in it, I promise, if there were actually a good reason to believe—exactly what agnostics say about the existence of a deity: “Show me.”

I would believe in it if the people who preach loudest about it didn’t have the largest carbon footprints in the form of multiple giant homes and frequent private jet travel.

I would believe in it if even one of the major predictions about the coming climate apocalypse that have been made over the last quarter century had come true. Not one has.

I would believe in it if the “science” that determines these predictions was actually reproducible and verifiable rather than built on computer models constructed by humans who enter the data according to what may well be their own expectation bias.

I would believe in it if the “scientists” themselves behaved more like actual scientists eager to share their data with the world instead of like Vatican cardinals in the age of Galileo, insisting that they’re above reproach and questioning by heretics. If you don’t agree that that’s going on, you haven’t been paying attention to Dr. Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against columnist Mark Steyn, which should long ago have been thrown out of court on First Amendment grounds.

I would believe in it if many of those who do believe in it wouldn’t insist that the “science is settled” beyond discussion and that those of us who remain unconvinced are foolish “deniers” deserving of being jailed. Appeals to authority rather than rationality reek of fascism at the cost of persuasion. Besides, what science is settled? Certainly not forensic science, nor the science of nutrition; examples abound.

I would believe in it if that widely touted dictum “97 percent of all climate scientists agree that AGW is happening” weren’t so self evidently stupid. Put aside, for the moment, that this has been thoroughly debunked and focus instead on how credulous one has to be in order to consider the statement as fact—credulous enough to believe that there’s a roster kept somewhere of all climate scientists; that some governing body sent each of the scientists on it a questionnaire; and that the term climate scientist has a specific meaning.

I would believe in it if there wasn’t far more money, in the form of grants and research (particularly from the U.S. government) for science that confirms AGW than for science that finds the globe hasn’t warmed for the last 18 years. No wonder data incongruous with the prevailing notion must be hidden. What seems true is that 97 percent of climate scientists are 97 percent sure that 97 percent of their funding will dry up if there’s no climate warming.

I would believe in it if, given all of the above, I hadn’t therefore concluded that AGW is a crony capitalist racket intended to redistribute money from the masses to the favored elite. Labeling CO2, which we all exhale and without which greenery can’t grow, to be a pollutant allows a president who’s so inclined to impose carbon costs that raise everyone’s energy prices. Then those additional monies can be diverted to green-energy startups started up by cronies who aren’t even on the hook personally for those public funds when their companies that wouldn’t have existed without such colossal subsidies sink into the tar pits of marketplace reality. Solyndra is one of too many cautionary tales.

Now, all that said, even if I did believe that climate change/global warming was real and happening, I would wonder why all of these same scientists were so concerned about potential devastation. The history of man on this planet has been, if nothing else—literally nothing else—one of adaptation to the environment. In the beginning he had nothing: no clothes, no fire, no weapons, no tools. Somehow, though, he adapted, and today he has an iPhone.

A species who can do that can certainly find a way to cope with the changes a warming planet might bring and even turn those changes into an advantage, especially if we can recruit all those falling-sky scientists. Or at least 97 percent of them.


Further reporting from the Los Angeles Times today confirms my previous impression that Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter, chose to sustain his own feelings of inferiority. And more than ever I’m convinced that the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department is incompetent to connect even paint-by-number dots.

“Elliot Rodger reportedly became increasingly isolated, sometimes by his own design. He complained that he couldn’t make friends, but acquaintances said in interviews that he rebuffed their attempts to be friendly….

One night last summer, officials said, he went to a party and tried to shove women who were sitting on a ledge. Several men intervened and pushed Rodger off the ledge instead, and he injured his ankle.

He was treated at a clinic for his injuries, and police showed up to interview him. In theory, this was an opening for an official intervention. But the officers determined that Rodger was “not a victim,” a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said Sunday, and that he had instigated the altercation.

In sum, Rodger rejected those who wanted to be friends, which suggests that he chose his own hell of isolation. Whether he did this unconsciously or because stepping out of that prison where he’d lived so long would have been too scary may never be known.

As for the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department, it’s reasonable to say that its investigators demonstrated the perspicacity of Inspector Clouseau and the foresight of Mr. Magoo. When a young man at a party tried to injure some women and was himself injured, they ignored the ankle injury’s precipitating action and focused only on whether to press charges against the male defenders.

If the SBSD had been in charge of the Boston Marathon bombings investigation and found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in that boat, wounded by gunfire, they’d have let him walk after determining he was “not a victim.”

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There is something terribly off to me about Elliot Rodger’s video and literary cris de coeur about not being able to get any from young women in Isla Vista, the town that’s adjacent to the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus.

“I’ve been alone for a very long time. I’ve been attending college in Santa Barbara for 2 and half years now. And in those 2.5 years I’ve experienced nothing but loneliness and misery,” he said in a YouTube video.

“It doesn’t make sense. I do everything I can to appear attractive to you,” Rodger said in a message to women in general. “I dress nice. I’m sophisticated. I’m magnificent. I have a nice car… I’m the ultimate gentleman. And yet, you girls you never give me a chance. I don’t know why.”

The why, I suspect, was that the young man (unconsciously, I assume) went out of his way to not hook up with a young woman as a way of validating his feelings of inferiority. To have sex with women would entail belonging to a club who would have him as a member and thereby blow apart his worldview in which he’s not good enough.

I offer these armchair psychiatric opinions because Isla Vista is renowned—infamous, actually—for its easy sexual action for anyone not Quasimodo, and Rodger wasn’t. On Thursday-Saturday nights, the streets, particularly Del Playa Drive, which runs from the campus west along a bluff above the beach, are a moveable Bacchanalia.

In fact, according to Princeton Review’s annual ranking of party schools, UCSB is currently ranked number two in the nation. The only surprise is that it’s not number one.

A few years ago I spent a lot of time in Isla Vista, investigating the wrongful conviction of a young man for rape. The subtext of the whole sorry, tragic mess was the area’s party atmosphere, where almost anything goes at any time, all of it fueled by copious amounts of alcohol as the sheriffs and university officials look the other way.

One city worker told me that the morning crews in charge of cleaning the sidewalks and small corner parks regularly find used condoms and discarded panties. It seems that not getting laid in Isla Vista is significantly harder than getting laid.

That Rodger so clearly needed psychiatric help which he wasn’t getting is obvious. I wonder why his family, who knew enough to alert the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department to his ravings, didn’t intervene personally by, say, taking him home.

For that matter, I wonder why the sheriffs didn’t bother connecting the dots between his ravings, his previous contacts with them, and the state’s gun registry, which would have noted three rather recent legal purchases.

Actually, I don’t wonder. And for good reason. Owing to my experience with the department regarding that wrongful rape conviction, which was abominably botched (criminally so, in my opinion), I have just above zero respect for the Santa Barbara sheriffs. So their not connecting the dots is, to me, just S.O.P.

It’s Isla Vista, Jake.


President Obama promised to “fundamentally transform” America. Mission accomplished, sir.

Unfortunately, transformation is a qualitatively neutral word. Knives can transform a Rembrandt into rags the way fire transforms a house to ashes.

That’s about what ObamaCare has done to my healthcare.

As a freelancer, for most of 30 years I bought health insurance directly from providers on individual policies, and it worked perfectly well. Pretty much every doctor I ever visited or wanted to visit was on whatever plan I happened to be covered by at the time. This came in particularly helpful late last year, when I had a bad bicycle accident that required (a) a trip in an ambulance, and (b) surgery on my left leg.

While recovering, I learned that my wife’s and my policy would be canceled as not being ACA compliant. Apparently it didn’t have pediatric dental or maternity coverage. Since we’re both past the age of both and had no dependents at home, this seemed ridiculous but not terrible after we were informed that we could go right back to Anthem Blue Cross and buy an ACA-approved policy.

Our new policy was far more expensive than the previous one, but it had the advantage of—well, it didn’t have an advantage. In fact, it came with the disadvantage of having to deal with Anthem at a time when everyone else was trying to, too. Sparing you all the details, I’ll just say that our saga that began on November 25—and has included more than 40 calls, three letters, four faxes, four communications with the CEO’s office, and at least 70 hours either speaking with someone or on hold—has yet to conclude.

Anthem still can’t get our billing right because the bureaucracy prevents any single employee from looking at both enrollment records and billing records. This company that used to have acceptable customer service now makes USPS look like Nordstrom.

No wonder. There’s no need anymore for accountability. With customers locked in, healthcare in the individual market is a monopoly that has zero consequences for atrocious wait times, utter incompetence, and poor performance.

Still, that’s the least of the problems ObamaCare has caused me. Worse is that, in February, after an MRI taken because of persistent excruciating pain in the injured leg, my surgeon concluded that I needed three, possibly four, maybe five surgeries in the next 12-18 months, all performed sequentially with periods in-between for healing.

“Great,” I said, “let’s do it. I’d like to walk normally again.”

“Okay,” he said, “let’s schedule them.”

“Not so fast,” said the woman who runs his office. “We’re not on the exchange”—Covered California.

“Neither am I,” I said. “I bought my policy directly from Anthem.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she explained. “All individual policies were pushed onto the exchange.”

A phone call that afternoon to Anthem’s executive offices confirmed this. I pointed out that when I’d signed up and asked about the exchange, I was told that this policy had nothing to do with it because we weren’t getting a subsidy. In response, the woman adopted the deadly voice of a civil servant and noted that all individual policies had been moved to the exchange. Period.

“Why?” I asked, “because enrollment figures were low?”

“Will there be anything else?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “a new orthopedic surgeon.” I love this guy. He’s been our orthopod for a dozen years, since miraculously repairing my wife’s arms after her biking accident turned one elbow into pixie dust.

The Anthem lady referred me to the website’s list of providers, where I learned that I’d lost not just my surgeon, but every doctor I’ve seen for 30 years, from dermatologist to internist.

It was no surprise to read in the LA Times that up to 80 percent of specialists aren’t participating in the exchange, thanks to the low reimbursement rates. Frankly, I don’t blame the doctors for saying no. And just as frankly, I wouldn’t want to be treated by a doctor who’s desperate enough to look through the sofa cushions for small change.

How about paying the out-of-network rate? Nope. In essence, there is no more out-of-network rate. According to the woman in the Anthem executive offices, policy holders must be out of pocket $5,000 before being reimbursed at 60 percent.

But even that pittance is misleading. The five grand is on what Anthem and Anthem alone determines to be reasonable and customary, so in practice it’s probably ten or fifteen grand—even more.

To put a bow on it, my wife and I now pay almost $2,000 a month for theoretically excellent coverage (hooray for pediatric dental and maternity), except for the fact that we can’t use it anywhere.

If I were younger I’d cancel the policy and tell them to stuff it. But at a certain age making an FU statement like that is unwise. True, I won’t be getting on a bicycle again soon, maybe ever (and the same may apply to walking, especially with this metal plate still in there). But accidents do happen. And if one does, I want to be able to pretend that I’m actually covered.

I was born during Eisenhower’s time in the White House, which means I’ve lived under 11 presidents—a fourth of those who’ve ever held the office—and without doubt the president who has impacted me most directly is Obama. You might even say he’s fundamentally transformed my life.

Hey, see those strips of canvas with paint on them? I promise, they’re a Rembrandt.

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Gordon Willis, the renowned cinematographer, died on Sunday. If he had shot only the two Godfather films, he’d still be mourned as a serious artist. I never met the man but I do have a personal story that says as much about him as it does the wannabe culture of Los Angeles.

It happened on a Friday morning in spring 1979. My (then) girlfriend and I left Malibu at about eight o’clock for the hour drive in heavy traffic to Westwood, where we were eager to get in line for the first showing of Woody Allen’s newest film, Manhattan. In the days before multiplexes, even A-list films played in only a few theaters located several zip codes apart.

Sure enough, the line was already formed when we got there, and would quickly grow long enough to sell out—this for a weekday 10 am showing of not the next blockbuster in the Star Wars saga but a Woody Allen film. Everyone was sure he would atone for his last film, Interiors, his stab at a Bergmanesque family drama so intentionally devoid of humor that it was unintentionally hilarious. That it had followed Annie Hall magnified our disappointment with it.

The atmosphere in the auditorium buzzed. Judging by the chatter, I doubt there was anyone among the several hundred people who didn’t know that (a) the film was shot in black and white, and (b) Allen was again working with his favorite cinematographer, Gordon Willis. This was, after all, L.A., where residency is supposed to confer company-town familiarity with everyone and everything Hollywood.

When the lights dimmed, several voices actually ssshed the crowd, something I’d never heard. Once it was dark, the opening notes of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue brought sighs of contentment—except for one thing. The images that had faded in onscreen were blurred. What?

After 20 or 30 seconds of this, I began shouting, “Focus!” Maybe because I’d already done it, no one else yelled. Or maybe it was because, well—

“Hey, man,” the guy behind me said, tapping me on the shoulder, “it’s Gordon Willis.”

I looked at him like the idiot he was, turned back around, and shouted “Focus, focus, focus, focus…” Some people actually ssshed me, including the guy behind me.

A few moments later the film stopped and the house lights came on. A young man ran down in front of the screen and apologetically explained that the film had arrived just minutes before the showing, so they hadn’t had time to correct the throw, which apparently was different because of the black and white photography.  He said they were already rewinding and would start the film again in mere seconds.

The lights went down, the music came up, and onscreen appeared gorgeous tableaux of New York City, one shot after another composed like paintings.

After several of them, I turned around to the guy behind me and, with barely suppressed glee, said, “Now that’s Gordon Willis.”