Spy vs. spy
November 1, 2013
Now that the government is re-opened, you almost have to wonder why. Congress has held hearings about the failed roll out of the Obamacare website, expressing their grave displeasure that the program the Republicans so despise is not being implemented smoothly. They dragged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius before the committee for several hours of awkward "Wizard of Oz" metaphors. Sebelius is a former governor of Kansas. After she herself described the website problems as a debacle and completely unacceptable, there was nothing more to say. But they had a full day of hearing time, and the TV cameras were rolling, so the Congressmen made "Wizard of Oz" jokes.
The only thing of substance to come out of the hearings was that Congressman Frank Pallone from New Jersey dismissed the proceedings as a "monkey court." That comparison of members of Congress to monkeys is, of course, a great insult to monkeys everywhere.
Obama is obviously upset by his defining domestic program crashing and burning on launch. So he has gone around the country doing what he does best, giving lovely speeches. I have the sense that if he got stranded on a back road with a flat tire, he would attempt to inspire it to re-inflation with moving rhetoric. But I don’t think he knows which end of the jack handle to hold.
Meanwhile, in the post-apocalyptic wreckage of the website failure, I went shopping for health insurance. I won’t qualify for any of the subsidized programs, so I didn’t bore too deeply into the Health.gov website. But as far as I got, it worked fine, explained the options and coverage. I left with useful information. From there I went to the websites of the individual insurance companies, which all either crashed or reached a screen that more or less said, "We haven’t got this figured out yet. Call back in a couple of months." There are no Congressional hearings as to why the websites of the private insurance companies are balky and uninformative.
Another company’s website asked for my phone number. My finger was still on the "send" button when the phone rang. The salesperson had all kinds of information, and some options that looked attractive. But since medical care in Summit County is now under the benevolent boot heel of the Intermountain Healthcare monopoly, everything this company had was "out of plan," and wouldn’t work.
The other big deal was the revelation that the NSA has been tapping the personal cell phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel for several years. Obama claims not to have known about it. Too busy giving speeches, I guess. The spy agencies are running amok without adult supervision. He’s only the president, it’s not like he’s in charge of anything. It’s no secret that once they get the air conditioning fixed at their big data center in Bluffdale, they will be storing every phone call, text, and email you send. But spying on the personal phone calls of one of our most trusted allies? Well, everyone is shocked, shocked.
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So what have we learned from listening in on Mrs. Merkel’s personal phone calls that has aided national security? Her husband, Joachim Sauer, is as invisible as Margret Thatcher’s husband was all those years. Without the phone tap, the NSA may never have known he existed, let alone that he is supposed to pick up a liter of milk and some spaetzle from that takeout place she likes. She nags him constantly to clean out the garage, and to do something with all those old Trabants he has collected. I’m sleeping more soundly already.
It’s not just Merkel. The NSA has been spying on at least 35 supposedly friendly heads of government. There were protests all around, and ambassadors called in to give explanations. Once again, the Russians came to Obama’s rescue when it was revealed that they passed out free thumb drives at a recent G-20 meeting that were loaded with spyware. As Jon Stewart put it, any top government official who would stick a "free" Russian souvenir thumb drive into his or her government secret-loaded computer should be fired. But it’s given Obama a little cover. Everybody does it, is the official response. The NSA just does it better. And without telling the president about it. Whatever.
For those who live in the city limits, Tuesday is election day. You are fortunate to have high-quality choices. There are no local equivalents of Ted Cruz or Mike Lee running. I know all of them, and won’t try to pick among friends. Any combination of the candidates would be a strong city government. But there are some distinctions, and it makes sense to study their positions and see how those match up with your vision of where we are going. Then go vote. It really does matter.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.