Outrages: Traffic Armageddon and food-stamp Frappuccinos

David Martosko Executive Editor
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The American political universe is remarkably like the astronomical one: full of bright stars, strange forces, and the unmistakable dark matter that can’t be seen — only sensed and cursed at. And, like the world our miraculously assembled atoms and molecules inhabit, the news landscape has its share of disappointments, frustrations, and things that outright piss us off.

Here are some of the head-scratchers and fist-shakers that caught my attention in the past week.

Heading the class is our often tone-deaf leader, President Obama, whose latest fundraising junket took him to New York City at roughly the same hour as the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Plaza. That trip was followed, of course, by the announcement of a 17-day-long vacation — the mercilessly expensive Hawaiian kind — which POTUS and family will soon take in the middle of a national economic malaise.

Setting aside the unmistakably one-percentish trip — are you paying attention, occupiers? — Obama’s addition to the Big Apple’s traffic snarls was, in a word, aggravating. (Or, if you prefer, asinine.)

The New York Post called it “the double whammy of all traffic nightmares”; and while survivors of 9/11 might beg to differ, that’s not too far from reality. A former NYC traffic commissioner said of the unmanageable situation that “[a]nybody that travels into midtown Manhattan with a car should have their head examined.”

Cabbies, urbanites, and subway workers all felt the pinch, and for what? A $10,000 per plate fundraiser hosted by gay-rights supporters. Believe it or not, that’s a small-potatoes haul for Obama, whose standard shtick requires the federally mandated maximum of $35,800 per couple. Some top gay donors forked over the max anyway, according to the gay advocates at the intriguingly named On Top magazine.

Donald Trump may have said it best. (Yes, I wrote that.) “The streets are going to be closed — everything’s going to be closed because of his security,” the “Celebrity Apprentice” impresario sniped in a YouTube video directed at the president. “Stop with the fundraisers and start running the country, because you’re doing one hell of a lousy job.”

Obama, the ultra-liberal Mother Jones magazine reports, has attended on average one fundraiser every five days during 2011.

In another part of the same political constellation, news emerged last week that Washington Post liberal columnist Ezra Klein pulled off an unusual role-reversal on Capitol Hill.

It’s commonplace for congressional staffers to brief reporters on political developments and legislative plans; eyebrows seldom shoot to the ceiling even when those briefings are partisan and open only to reporters of a friendly political persuasion. But Klein, as FishBowlDC’s Betsy Rothstein was first to report, actually briefed leading Senate staffers on the kind of media strategy they would need to weather the political fallout from the imminent failure of America’s deficit-control Supercommittee.

“Klein’s speech to high-level Democratic aides was in the Capitol, closed door and off the record,” Rothstein wrote, noting the oddity of a Fourth Estate ambassador so obviously getting into bed with the politicians he’s supposed to cover on a regular basis.

This isn’t completely unprecedented: CNN’s Fareed Zakaria admitted in May that he had been advising the Obama administration on foreign policy in “face-to-face meetings” organized by the president’s national security advisor. But unlike Zakaria, who maintains some semblance of gravitas in his work, Klein’s approach to journalism has been one long stick-in-the-eye Jeremiad against the political right.

Klein also founded “JournoList,” a long-lived (and Daily Caller-exposed) digital mailing list where liberal reporters plotted to rearrange the forces of the media and public-opinion universe in opposition to political conservatism.

But at the Post, Klein’s digital persona has been constructed to feign political balance. His brief bio advises readers only that Klein is “a columnist” who “focuses on domestic and economic policymaking, as well as the political system that’s constantly screwing it up.” Nosiree, nothing here about being in the tank for a particular point of view. That would be un-journalistic.

The most outrageous part of the episode came last Monday, when Klein issued a classic non-denial denial. “I didn’t go and ‘brief’ Senate Democratic chiefs of staff on the finer points of the supercommittee,” he insisted. Only that he “attend[ed]” a “free-ranging discussion” with Senate Democratic chiefs of staff.

Klein added that he is in “continuous conversation” with staffers on both sides of Congress. But if Sen. Mitch McConnell is waiting by the phone for an offer of a strategy session with the no-I’m-not-a-partisan Klein, he shouldn’t hold his breath. And the Post should be ashamed, or at least move Klein’s future denials to the comics page.

In Oregon, the often wacky far-flung planet where, as Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer noted last week during the “Funniest Celebrity in Washington” contest, the backyard chickens are numerous and all have names and life-coaches. (Blumenauer’s quirky act was for nought, as The Daily Caller’s senior editor, Jamie Weinstein, took home the top prize.)

Fox News investigators visited a Starbucks kiosk in a Salem, Ore. Safeway store last week and were able to purchase a Frappuccino with — wait for it — food stamps.

I have no idea what made Fox want to try this maneuver, but it’s even more outrageous that federal government guidelines have green-lighted food stamp purchases of soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream, bakery cakes and energy drinks.

When I lived in Maryland some years ago, I often saw inner-city Baltimoreans — or, in this case, those we cheekily called “Baltimorons” — whipping out their ironically named “Independence Cards” to pay for everything from Marlboros to Keystone beer.

Haven’t we gotten past this? You’d think by now first lady Michelle Obama would have appointed food-stamp police to exclude everything but organic arugula and free-range capons.

Rounding out the week’s ridiculous cosmic forces is a story that keeps coming back like an annoying comet. The jack-boots at TSA hit a new low Saturday by strip-searching an 85-year-old granny at Kennedy Airport in New York City.

TSA is denying it, but who are we supposed to believe? “They’re lying to protect their ass because they’re afraid of being sued — and they will be sued,” the 4-foot-11, 110-pound Leonore Zimmerman told the Daily News. “They took me into a private screening room and pulled my pants down and then pulled down my underwear.”

For the record, my outrage has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that TSA also confiscated my cigar lighter last week at Reagan National Airport. Nothing at all.

Bonus item: Another dead body found at an “Occupy” encampment. Sounds just like a tea party to me. As one Facebooker observed Sunday, those right-wingers “just had corpses strewn everywhere.”

David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter

David Martosko