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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,
ratified December 15, 1791
Aside from gun safety, there are few issues that are harder to discuss rationally than freedom of the press. In its purest form, the principle is simple. You can't put reporters in jail or put them in legal peril for publishing the truth. You can't even charge them with anything for publishing what isn't true, if they publish it in good faith.
In fact, even good faith isn't always a requirement. In February 2003, Fox News argued in a Florida district court that they had a legal right to require reporters to deliberately lie. A reporter who refused to deliberately distort a story had been awarded a sizable sum. The court agreed that Fox had a right to lie on purpose and overruled a jury verdict.
Fox News then reported having been "totally vindicated" by the ruling. The report itself was a direct and immediate demonstration of the freedom to mislead.
During the last couple of weeks, journalists have reacted in fury at the news that telephone records, numbers called and calls received, of five Associated Press reporters had be subpoenaed by investigators working for the Justice Department. More recently, news came out that telephone records and logs of entries into and exits from a government building of a Fox News reporter were also examined in another case.
“In a continuing witch hunt for leaks and whistle-blowers, the Obama administration has chosen to trample the First Amendment,” said APME President Brad Dennison.
“Freely tossing around the word ‘transparency,’ as this administration is prone to do, does not make it so,” Dennison said. “This action clearly demonstrates that President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. have absolutely no interest in an open and transparent government.”
- Albuquerque Journal, May 15, 2013
To treat a reporter as a criminal for doing his job — seeking out information the government doesn’t want made public — deprives Americans of the First Amendment freedom on which all other constitutional rights are based.
- Dana Milbank, Washington Post, May 21, 2013
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.
- New York Times Editorial Board, May 14, 2013
If I am missing something, so are most Americans. And I may be missing it because of all the overblown rhetoric floating around.
As I understand it, last year five Associated Press reporters broke an important news story. The FBI had in their possession a new sort of bomb that al Qaeda had tried to smuggle to a suicide volunteer. The plan was to blow up a plane. But the real story was that an undercover agent had managed to infiltrate al Qaeda. The information was leaked to the reporters by someone with a top level security clearance.
Wow. That was some story.
Problem is, reporting that story effectively ended the dangerous adventure of the agent in al Qaeda. Thanks, AP. al Qaeda now knew they had a spy in their midst.
Separately, A Fox Reporter wrote a story based on a source in North Korea about military plans by that dictatorship. So North Korea knew they had a spy in their midst. That information was also leaked by someone with a top level security clearance.
So you had two breaches of security.
After the team of reporters, with the help of someone with a top level security clearance, exposed a secret operative in the heart of what is left of al Qaeda, word is the operative got out alive because he was busy delivering the new type of bomb to the FBI.
Now that a single reporter for Fox News, with the help of someone with a top level security clearance, exposed the fact that a secret operative had gotten into the heart of the North Korean government, there is no word of the fate of that undercover source.
This is what Chuck Todd of MSNBC told a national audience yesterday morning:
This is, you can't look at this and see it as anything other than an attempt to basically scare anybody from ever leaking anything ever again.
So they want to criminalize journalism. And that's what it's coming down, I mean, if you end up essentially criminalizing journalism or when it comes to reporting on the federal government, particularly on national security, and the only place they can, they think they technically can do that is on the issues of national security.
What it's going to do is the impact that we’ve heard, we heard the AP counsel say this over the weekend. It is going to make whistleblowers, and people that might leak, regular sources. You know, I’ve had different conversations with people over the last week who are sitting there not quite comfortable having certain conversations on the phone. I mean, it just completely, and maybe that's the intent. I can't think of any other intent of why they’re going about this in such a broad harassing sort of way.
- Chuck Todd, quoted by Newsbusters, May 22, 2013
Now the average American, which is to say me, is supposed to be horrified. I am not supposed to be enraged at the aborting of the infiltration of a top level terrorist group. I am supposed to nod agreeably at the exposure of an undercover source in North Korea.
What is supposed to enrage me is that government would try to discourage those with top clearance from handing over such secrets to reporters.
A case can be made about the nature of the efforts by authorities. I'm not sure it is a good case. The Fox Reporter was not stalked by agents ducking into doorways and behind corners. They just looked at the logs of a government building where he used a security badge to check in and out. They compared the electronic logs with logs of government employees with clearances and found there weren't many such folks in the building at the same time. A check of phone logs narrowed it down to one guy.
Frankly, that does not seem an unreasonable set of actions, except perhaps by the reporter who just assumed that exposing national secrets was the constitutional right of anyone working for the government.
The case of government overreach on the AP story is marginally stronger. It involves weeks of phone logs, and the logs were of more reporters.
If there is a case for outrage, it is not being made effectively by outraged journalists.
"Criminalize journalism?" Have reporters been jailed? Are those who betray secret agents in foreign lands engaging in journalism?
It's going to make those with information that might put people in danger "not quite comfortable having certain conversations on the phone?" Really?
"Maybe that's the intent?" Ya think?
These talking heads actually believe the public is outraged on behalf of oppressed reporters, rather than the endangered secret operatives. They are convinced from their expertly coiffed hair right down to their hundred dollar socks that they are presenting a compelling case.
I do have one heartfelt request.
After the right wing Second Amendment violent overthrow that militants are preparing, I ask, please, please, please:
I'd like to be tried separately from these journalists.
Memory fades with time, part of the cost of longevity. I haven't found any record of it, but I do recall hearing, or reading, William F. Buckley refer to Carl Stokes as a political genius. I remember it as gracious admiration.
When Carl Stokes was elected Mayor of Cleveland in 1968, it was historic. Cleveland had become the first major city to elect an African-American mayor.
I was traveling through Cleveland around 1970 on my way from rural New York State to St. Louis. I stopped at a small motel for the night. I flipped through channels, getting ready to doze, and came across a public access station. A Cleveland City Council meeting was in progress. It was a sort of Question-The-Mayor session. I watched a few rounds. Pretty routine. Then a young representative of some district stood. He began talking about his visit with a clerk in an obscure city agency. He was performing routine constituent work, looking for services for those he represented.
He grew angry, a bit louder, as he told those in the chamber that the clerk had suggested services might have been provided more quickly if he had played ball. He was shouting as he wrapped up his story. He pointed his finger dramatically at the Mayor. "This Councilman," he said, referring to himself, "does not play ball."
Mayor Stokes had listened attentively, but showed no emotion during the angry oration. He didn't look happy or shocked or angry or bored. Stoic, maybe. He waited for a second or two after the angry representative had finished. Then he stood, walked to the podium, and calmly dispatched his young opponent with an assurance of equal quality of city services.
I've had occasion to think back on Mayor Stokes. After serving two terms as Cleveland's mayor, he went into television, then became a judge. He was appointed by Bill Clinton as ambassador to some small country and then I lost track. I was stunned when I heard he had died of cancer in the mid 1990s.
I think of Carl Stokes and that encounter pretty often when I hear some angry exchange on television, especially when the response to anger is placid irony.
When conservatives attacked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. His calm explanation that he was just doing his job and he that appreciated President Obama doing his was kind of Stokes-like.
A conservative is sometimes defined as a liberal who has been mugged. These days a liberal is a conservative who has been hit by Hurricane Sandy. Right wing Islam-o-phobe Peter King (R-NY) represents a part of Long Island hit hard by that vicious storm. He saw the suffering first hand. He begged for quick action on behalf of those needing basics for survival. Democrats in Congress became his allies. Republicans held things up. King was furious, vowing never to forget who had let him down.
Among those who opposed aid for victims of Sandy were Oklahoma's two United States Senators. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, opposed aid for those left homeless and without food or power in the wake of Sandy.
Now disaster has hit Oklahoma, the state that sent those two Republicans to the Senate. It was about the hardest fury imaginable from wind. Over a hundred are injured so far, dozens are dead. Both totals are thought to be precursors of a much larger final count. Many of the victims are children.
Among those three Republicans, Oklahoma's Inhofe and Coburn, and New York's King, it seems predictable that two would favor immediate aid to Oklahoma and one would be opposed. Which two support aid and and which opposes might surprise.
Peter King wants assistance delivered to the people of Oklahoma and wants it delivered now.
I think they should get every penny they need. I’ve been through this. We can do the political games later on, the important thing is to get them the aid as quickly as they need it and not to make a political issue out of it.
- Representative Peter King (R-NY), May 21, 2013
Senator Tom Coburn is a man of rock solid principle. He has seen and heard of the devastation to his constituents and wants to hold off on federal assistance until some offset is arranged. He is okay with pulling people from collapsed buildings. He only opposes anything more until other programs are cut.
Money for emergency aid, rescue, basics for life, saving those injured, including children must wait until Congress has re-visited the Federal Budget. Perhaps breakfast programs for little kids, or Meals-on-Wheels for seniors, or medical care for veterans, or something can be cut. Something must be cut, and the cuts must pass Congress, before additional rescue efforts should be applied to Oklahoma.
In fact, he is angry at those who take advantage of the disaster to push for more assistance:
It is crass for critics to play disaster aid politics when first responders are pulling victims from the rubble.
- Office of Senator Tom Coburn, May 21, 2013
Senator James Inhofe looks at the same damage his colleague Tom Coburn sees and draws a different conclusion. He says emergency aid should not be held up waiting for offsets. He opposed aid to Hurricane Sandy, but he says this is different. There won't be waste this time.
Part of what Senators Inhofe and Coburn opposed after Sandy was additional funding for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They also fought against such wasteful spending as the federal Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project. National warnings to residents in Oklahoma came 16 minutes before devastation hit.
The Governor of Oklahoma expressed gratitude to FEMA for saving lives. "We appreciate all that FEMA is doing."
President Obama declared devastated zones as disaster areas, sent troops, ordered FEMA into action, and promised to stand with Oklahoma "as long as it takes."
Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need. Because we're a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes.
- President Barack Obama, May 21, 2013
In my mind, President Obama became a sort of Carl Stokes for a moment, but without the additional dry needling of his young critic, the critic who had just shouted "This Councilman won't play ball." The combative Mayor spoke the words that our President would not say during the death and destruction of a natural disaster.
Facing his young critic, Mayor Stokes calmly replied. He assured all residents of the City of Cleveland that they would receive the best service possible "regardless of area in which they live or the quality of their representation on the City Council."
He was terrific.
But not the polite gentleman who is the President of the United States.
Anthropomorphism is a word often associated with religious discussion. It is the human tendency to put a human face on non-human things or entities. You know. Like God?
It's kind of inevitable. We are presented with aspects of God according the wisdom of which we are capable. We stray into danger when we insist on a wrongful certainty, militantly imposing our own limitations on others. As the Apostle Paul kept pointing out, we can't ever wrap our mind around God. Paul ascribed all sorts of maladies to idolatry, substituting things for God.
C.S. Lewis (I think - age takes its toll) suggested a simple formula to accept whatever revelation is granted to us, and still to avoid idolatry. The prayer he suggested: I worship you, not as I imagine you to be, but as you really are.
I carry in my wallet, have for years, a prayer written decades ago by Father Thomas Merton. It is, in part, a confession of a lack of direct knowledge of God's will. "... and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so." The hope is expressed that the desire to please God pleases God.
Anthropomorphism is not confined to remaking our Creator in our own image. Forces of nature: earthquakes, hurricanes are filtered through the same process, angry entities expressing their fury.
One modern version of anthropomorphism, putting a human form on non-human objects, is in economic policy. This was understandable a century ago. It was a political truism: Government should operate like a family. The thought was that government should live within its means, just like individual families. In hard times, families had to cut back, and so should government.
It wasn't just Republicans who pushed for austerity as the Depression tightened its deadly grip on everyday life. Democrats campaigned against deficits. 1932 Democratic candidate Franklin Roosevelt attacked the deficits of the Hoover administration.
Pretty much everyone, outside of a few economists who were taking a fresh look at economic data, thought pretty much the same way.
It was common sense.
Once Roosevelt took office, he did something strange. He declared a policy of open mindedness. He was willing to try most anything. Try something. If it doesn't work, discard it and try something else until factories are open and people are back to work. And the newest data-sensitive economic theory around was that of John Maynard Keynes.
Keynes pushed a radical new notion. Government is not a family.
When a family cuts back on spending during economic hard times, it does hurt the economy. A dollar not spent is a dollar not earned by someone else, which is a dollar someone else will not be spending. But the effect on a national economy of an individual family is immeasurably small, less than microscopic. A family has no obligation to the larger economy, especially compared with a more profound obligation to its own economic survival.
Families have to cut back during hard times. It's common sense.
A government does have an obligation to the larger economy. Its survival is not threatened by temporary shortfalls. And it has a direct impact on the economy that an individual family does not have.
The not-so-common-sense economic theories of Keynes were based on accumulated economic data. But anyone can invent explanations that contort around established data. What Keynes and other economists were able to do was to predict the effects of government policies. They were complex, but in their essence they were based on simple principles. In hard times, government should run deficits, spending like crazy. In prosperous times, government should pay back those deficits.
The policies of tax cuts in the early Bush administration would have been opposed by Keynes. Times were good. The Clinton surpluses should be used to retire government debt. They weren't.
Keynes would have objected to the deficits of the Obama administration because they were too small. Way,way too small. They pulled us away from another Great Depression, but left us plagued by a "new normal" in unemployment.
Keynesian theories have been validated by decades of economic data. More important, economic patterns have flowed as predicted by Keynesian economists. This is why Keynesian economics are now mainstream, the prevalent formula used by economists the world over.
Keynes would have opposed austerity policies of the European Union, which makes these two news stories pertinent.
This headline is from 2008:
Cameron calls for Government to 'live within its means' in return to Thatcherite values.
- London's Daily Mail, May 19, 2008
All of Europe went for the Cameron formula, including Cameron. Common sense prevailed. Government would live within its means during hard times, kind of like a family.
That was five years ago.
This is from last week:
PARIS (AP) — The eurozone is now in its longest ever recession — a stubborn slump that has surpassed even the calamity that hit the region in the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
- Associated Press via National Public Radio, May 15, 2013
The longest recession in European history has resulted from anthropomorphism.
Now consider this bit of news, widely ignored by media outlets in the United States as Benghazi, security leaks, and IRS misbehavior dominate.
The annual deficit has fallen 32% over the first seven months of this fiscal year compared with same period last year, according to Congressional Budget Office figures released Tuesday.
- CNN Money, May 7, 2013
The United States budget deficit has been reduced dramatically. Isn't that great news?
Well ... no, actually.
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The news seemed pretty good, for public safety, for anti-terrorism efforts, for the political chances of candidate for re-election Barack Obama.
The destruction of al Qaeda and the killing of Osama bin Laden had left the diminished al Qaeda branch in Yemen as the most dangerous center of terrorism. An enhanced and improved version of the underwear bomb at the center of an earlier plot had been developed by the Yemen group. The bomb was described as a "non-metallic explosive" device specifically designed to get past airport security.
The conspiracy had not only been foiled, the bomb had ended up, intact, in the hands of FBI experts. Presumably, the Federal Bureau of Investigation would unleash experts to figure out if the device, or any like it, could be gotten through airport security.
You would have thought everyone would be happy. Republicans might be a bit chagrined privately, but they would pretty much have to put on their game face and congratulate the administration on a job well done, right?
Well, not so much.
One Republican, Peter King, said the leak was more deeply profound than anything else in his experience. He said the leak had put lives at risk. The operation could have resulted in a lot more information, preventative information that could be used to prevent future terrorist attacks. Now the opportunity was gone.
The FBI has to do a full and complete investigation because this really is criminal in the literal sense of the word to leak out this type of sensitive, classified information on really almost unparalleled penetration of the enemy.
- Peter King, Chairman House Homeland Security Committee, May 13, 2012
You could easily see the political irritation. Republicans had been saying from the beginning that President Obama was in over his head. The threat of terrorism would grow under his administration. The refusal to use torture was, they said, a fatal decision.
The killing of bin Laden had been the gigantic single incident in a long series of terrorist deaths. So many terrorist leaders been killed, Republicans started complaining that too many had been killed, too few captured for interrogation. What about the intelligence needed to prevent future attacks? It was a weak spin against a phenomenal destruction of the primary threat to American security.
The leak of the latest success had made that watered down accusation look even more absurd.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) publicly made an accusation that national security had been compromised for the purpose of obtaining political advantage.
I think there was a little premature chest-thumbing. I’ve ordered a preliminary review. And I’ll tell you something, this has been a damaging leak. We shouldn’t underestimate what really happened here ... It’s clear that the information was leaked. That information as presented at some point to the CIA. The CIA at that point tried to put the story back in the can for security reasons. People’s lives were at stake during this operation. And that’s where it gets a little murky, which is why I ordered the review.
- Mike Rogers (R-MI), May 13, 2013 on Face the Nation
Actually, Republicans had a point. The information had been developed with help from the inside. Inside, in this case, meant inside al Qaeda itself. American intelligence had developed a source within the Yemen terrorist group. We had infiltrated al Qaeda, or what was left of it. That made the operation itself a big deal. The leak of that fact had put the person we had in the group into a great deal of personal danger.
A letter was sent to the administration. It was signed by 31 Republican Senators. It demanded an aggressive investigation into such leaks. Aggressive.
The constant Republican implication was that political operatives of the Obama administration had leaked vital information, gotten terrific political advantage as a result, and that nothing substantive would be done about it.
That accusation was still alive, although on the back-burner, as other political targets were developed by Republicans. National Security had been compromised and the Obama administration would not take it seriously.
That was a year ago. Things change.
All hell broke loose this week, as it turned out the administration had indeed taken the leak seriously. Eric Holder had been interviewed as a potential leak suspect, however remote that possibility was, and had recused himself from the investigation. You can't name yourself as a suspect and control an investigation.
Phone records of numbers called by five Associated Press reporters to and from the White House were subpoenaed by a subordinate, James M. Cole. Cole had been directed to conduct an aggressive investigation and to keep Eric Holder and White House personnel uninformed about it. Except for signing off on subpoenas that legally required his signature, Holder kept out of it.
Republicans were quick to attack the administration for the subpoenas of the phone numbers. It was, they charged, an assault on press freedom.
They had an obligation to look for every other way to get it before they intruded on the freedom of the press.
- Darrell Issa, Chairman,House Oversight Committee, May 11, 2013
Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee demanded a resignation:
Attorney General Eric Holder, in permitting the Justice Department to issue secret subpoenas to spy on Associated Press reporters, has trampled on the First Amendment and failed in his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution. Because Attorney General Holder has so egregiously violated the public trust, the president should ask for his immediate resignation. If President Obama does not, the message will be unmistakable: The President of the United States believes his administration is above the Constitution and does not respect the role of a free press.
There are serious first amendment issues involved. Those issues deserve examination and debate.
But one interesting fact seems irrefutable.
Republicans got what they demanded. They are very angry about it.
This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.
- Memorandum of Inquiry
To: Assistant White House Chief of Staff, Lawrence Higby
From White House Counsel, John Dean
August 16, 1971
The use of the IRS to target political enemies would not be unprecedented. Older citizens (raising my hand) may remember darker times when it came close to becoming official, although secret, White House policy. This may explain the hyper-sensitivity of liberal reaction to the inadequate IRS explanations.
Only conservative partisans and headline hungry writers actually hope to find a repetition of that type of abuse. But a free airing is the antiseptic of democracy. We can hope the news about the unproductive search for scandal in Benghazi will yield a bit of room to the more promising vein in the Cincinnati offices of the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS, so far, maintains that this season's misconduct consisted of low level activity in Ohio. The Cincinatti-Gone-Wild explanation is that individual agents, without reporting it to management, looked in 501(c)(4) applications for key words. "Tea Party" or "Patriot" rang alarm bells. So did certain non-political words having to do with improvement of society. About 30 applications were selected for review for all the wrong reasons.
501(c)(4) organizations are a type of non-profit group. They are supposed to be Civic Leagues, Social Welfare Organizations, and Local Associations of Employees, that sort of thing. They are formed for the purpose of some sort of social welfare. This can be related to recreational, charity, or educational purposes. Donations are sometimes taxable as gifts, sometimes not. The organizations can devote themselves to political purposes - Defeat Proposition A!!! - but can't back or target specific candidates or parties.
There were some signs that such organizations were being used as huge, huge political slush funds by a few mega-wealthy individuals. Generally, donors to these groups can be anonymous. This invites abuse. But if this "dark money" is used for advocacy not directed for or against specific candidates, it's legal and has to be left alone.
That's one reason the scandal may move beyond who was targeted. Those selected were asked for lists of donors and more. Organizers were also asked for names of family members and for personal financial details. It's hard to see the purpose of that if concerns were confined to improper political activities.
The scandal may expand for other reasons.
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman had testified back in August, just before his term expired in November, that the IRS was not targeting conservative groups. It is reasonable to suspect he had been told that was literally true. One higher level official had been told of the improper activity and had ordered it stopped immediately.
Even so, it should have been included in reports to oversight committees in Congress.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has issued an all-too-clever statement that exploits the fact that the IRS is part of the executive branch. That is how IRS explanations can be linked by degrees of separation to the White House with no evidence or reasoning at all:
Today's acknowledgement by the Obama administration that the IRS did in fact target conservative groups in the heat of last year's national election is not enough. I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views.
- Mitch McConnell, May 10, 2012
At some point, someone will point out that IRS supervision has been one of the most underfunded parts of government. That won't get a lot of publicity. Underfunding of IRS supervision has been a deliberate decision by members of the House of Representatives.
Not to be considered of journalistic interest.
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There has seldom been a greater controversy, with more volume, with less popular interest than the deaths in Benghazi, on the shoreline of Libya.
Part of that may be because the issues are cloudy and become murkier with each passing day. Loud proclamations of scandal, predictions of new revelations, dark public mutterings about coverups, come across as more hysteria than serious study. Queen of Hearts logic tends to be self limiting to any who are not already committed:
They are guilty, guilty, I tell you.
And we will conduct a careful, impartial investigation to prove, prove, prove it.
Republicans publicly pursue elusive evidence to conform to their conclusions.
The malfeasance being charged is cloudy. There have been some attempts at specificity, but they have been too feeble to stand for more than a few moments at a time.
Republicans have produced cables, predating the killings, over the name of Hillary Clinton regarding details of embassy security. Didn't that prove she lied when she insisted under oath she had not personally read or authored such memos?
It wasn't hard for writers to find thousands of similar routine cables dealing with everything from hotel room availability to plane ticket prices. The name of the Secretary of State is put under a great many cables that are handled by subordinates.
Military personnel were frustrated at being ordered not to fly to Libya, staying in Egypt to protect facilities from what seemed like a growing threat. Shouldn't commanders have made different decisions?
Such issues are of vital interest to partisans. Most Americans, at least most who pay any attention, see only a bewildering set of retrospective second guessing of granular decisions made in the dead of night during a chaotic time of unreliable information. It scarcely qualifies as Monday morning quarterbacking. Criticisms have fallen into a pattern of you-turned-left-when-you-should-have-turned-right.
Conspiracy oriented lawmakers turned from cloudy allegations during that chaotic night to the coverup that happened later.
Coverup theories are a bit strained for a very simple reason. A coverup needs something illegal or unsavory or unwise: something, anything, worth hiding.
Some folks do go to the hotel room availability and security detail cables and left-should-have-been-right military decisions. Wiser heads are confined to items more nebulous. For example:
The president was in the middle of his reelection. One of his talking point was that terrorism had been defeated and that he had defeated it. And this ran counter to that narrative. They didn’t want to admit it was a terrorist attack because to admit it was a terrorist attack was to admit that terrorism was still out there and reaching us.
- Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), May 9, 2013
The problem with that sort of reasoning is that the premise itself is demonstrably false. First, you can look forever without finding President Obama saying that terrorism no longer exists. If it was mathematically possible, you could look even longer than forever without finding a Vice President, cabinet member, sub-cabinet official, campaign spokesperson, or family dog that said that there is no more terrorism in the world, no more terrorism directed at the United States, that terrorism had been eliminated.
You could produce video of Joe Biden saying the obvious: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. Not exactly the same thing. Unworthy of a coverup. In fact, the central implication Vice President Biden made was that terrorism is alive and well and we need a tough President who can intelligently fight back. A violent reaction from the remnants of al Qaeda would have played into that.
Those Americans who are not Obama haters and who continue devoting any attention to the matter are likely to recall three words: Please proceed, Governor. An angry President Obama was talking about the continuing threat of terrorism, specifically in connection with the Benghazi attack, the very next morning after the killings.
In fact, some conservatives, desperate for some new angle, insist that killing bin Laden, then rubbing al Qaeda's face in it, irritated terrorists, provoking them to strike back.
On his radio show this afternoon, Rush Limbaugh suggested that President Obama having ordered the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden and subsequently “bragged about it” inspired the sort of sentiment that led to the terrorist attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last fall.
- Andrew Kirell, Mediaite, May 6, 2013
The notion that terrorists might have been pacified if only the rhetoric had been kinder and gentler has not, so far, caught on with the general public.
As confusing as that night of demonstrations, riots, and death were, allegations are becoming more confused with each new day of shouts and hearings.
And that is a shame.
Benghazi does raise serious issues. They are serious precisely because of the murky chaos that presented itself that horrible night. Confusion happens in a chaotic world. Sometimes that chaos is life threatening. It is dark of the night confusion that makes careful planning and procedure essential. With predetermined tactics and well considered protocols, people will still die. Without planning, many more will die.
Foreign service, when done well, is risky. People who conduct it in person are brave. They are heroes, and they deserve the best we can provide.
That is why an administrative review within the Department of State was well directed, focused, and tough, very tough.
Questions about what procedures were in place, whether they were followed under pressure, and whether they should be changed, ought to be essential in the aftermath.
One side benefit that can accrue to an opposition party is some political advantage. It is a side benefit that tends to vanish if it is the obvious primary public goal.
The overstated, hyperventilated, unfocused screaming by Republicans has made any potential political advantage evaporate. Openly exploiting such a tragedy purely for political gain is less effective politically than conducting a search for truth, insisting on policy changes, then letting elective chips fall where they may.
More important than the political effects, those vital policy questions, how to make decisions in nights of violence and confusion, are also lost to this Republican Congress. That is America's loss.
We do have one responsible branch of government left. It certainly is not the perfect place from which to conduct such analysis. It is not even a good place. It is not how we were taught in civics class in long ago days. But at least it is something.
As Republicans ineffectively showboat, the administration, quietly but publicly, takes on the task of investigating itself.
Now here's a resume worth looking at.
Jason Richwine is a quantitative analyst at The Heritage Foundation specializing in education policy and its intersection with public-sector compensation and labor issues. He also contributes to studies touching on immigration, welfare and religion.
Wow. What a guy!
You know how we know all that? The Heritage Foundation has it on their website. They are right to boast about this scholar. They should be proud to have Jason Richwine as a contributing member. And they are.
He not only contributes to studies on immigration, he co-authored the most recent major contribution of the think tank to the national debate on immigration. And this was a very important contribution.
One unexpected bit of controversy caught non-conservatives by surprise. Which is to say, I did not anticipate it. I shouldn't speak for everyone. Here's what caused the first part of what happened.
The Congressional Budget Office has been an irritant to economic conservatives for more than a generation. The CBO is required to calculate the effect of proposed legislation, and they pretty much always make Republicans look a bit wild-eyed. Republicans had a theory that has become a theology, which they call Supply Side economics. It holds that lowering taxes always increases tax revenue. It's a beautiful theory that has every virtue except factual backing. When it's been tried, it has failed.
But Republicans have a perpetual demand that the CBO apply the assumption that any tax cuts will cause such an explosion of economic expansion that tax revenues will go up as a result of every cut. That assumption is called Dynamic Scoring. The CBO does apply normal multiplier effects. Spending does create or increase paychecks of somebody. That somebody will spend some or all of that, which will create or increase other paychecks. But that isn't Dynamic Scoring. It's just following a lot of data generated by many decades of actual measurement.
Anticipating explosive economic effects is what economic conservatives live and breathe these days. They live in a dream state that does not rely on such mundane evidence as figures and documentation. They want tax cuts for the wealthy. Dynamic Scoring is their bread and butter. It's their meat and potatoes. It's the entire nutritional basis of the Republican economic main course. Desert is cutting anything that benefits the middle class or those struggling to get out of poverty.
The Heritage immigration study was eagerly anticipated by some conservatives as a slap at the CBO. Former Senator Jim DeMint, the new President of the Heritage Foundation, calls the CBO "puppets of the Congress" because they have applied ordinary multiplier economic effects to previous immigration proposals. They have found that pro-immigration policies will grow the economy and more restrictive policies will hurt the economy. Now can we guess what the newest Heritage study revealed?
Sure enough, the new immigrant study contained the startling conclusion that giving undocumented immigrants, already here, a path to eventually earning citizenship would cost government 6.3 trillion dollars. It assumed no economic contribution. No new businesses formed. No increase in available jobs. No multiplier effects.
And economic conservatives discovered, to their horror, there was no Dynamic Scoring. The 6.3 trillion dollars cost to government assumes no net increase in tax revenues versus costs. Only additional costs. Lots and lots of costs.
Well, now it turns out there is another little problem. Those who wondered about the premise to the analysis, the main underpinning, the primary basis, questioned the assumption that Hispanics and their children and their eventual grandchildren, and their descendants would not, could not, contribute to any increase in the national economy.
That's an extraordinary assumption.
Then someone read a book. It is based on a college dissertation. The book is called IQ and Immigration Policy.
Here's the idea the book promotes:
The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market.
A lot of folks thought that sort of thing evaporated over a hundred years ago in this country as the Eugenics movement died out. The assumption was that certain types of immigrants were incapable of meaningful participation in the national economy because they inherently would not be able to keep up intellectually. They would pass this inability on to their children and grandchildren and future generations.
They would be a perpetual drag.
Now, it isn't fair to tar one study with another piece of work that happens to have a similar starting point. In fact, scholars who have reviewed the book, say IQ and Immigration Policy is not a very good piece of scholarship. It's not much more than a compilation of other non-reviewed studies compiled into a series of spreadsheets. Lots of crank sources can be found for this sort of thing.
The striking thing about this book is that it circles around to the co-author of the Heritage study. The book was written by Jason Richwine. That's the same Jason Richwine that The Heritage Foundation boasted about, the fellow who "contributes to studies touching on immigration."
And it's the same Jason Richwine who co-authored the Heritage study on immigration. That Jason Richwine. He elaborates in his earlier book: "No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against."
Outside of CPAC panel discussions that get sidetracked into the merits of slavery, most public conservatives consider overt racism to be a bit passe. At least that is true outside of Pat Buchanan type paleo-conservatives.
The Heritage Foundation reacted to the unfortunate new controversy on the Heritage study and the Book/dissertation from a few years before:
Dr. Richwine did not shape the methodology or the policy recommendations in the Heritage paper; he provided quantitative support to lead author Robert Rector. The dissertation was written while Dr. Richwine was a student at Harvard, supervised and approved by a committee of respected scholars.
So there you have it. Jason Richwine provided some support. But the vaunted co-author of the anti-immigrant screed had nothing to do with the actual study he co-authored or the conclusions that were published over his name.
That raises a critical question. I can do nothing as well as the next writer.
Where can I apply for that sort of employment?
Republicans have split into Jets and Sharks, complete with knives, but without West Side Story's music. And it's getting vicious. It's violent, horrifying, blood in the streets, back against the wall, gory.
You gotta love it.
Thing is, it's a conflict that is between two dumb ideas that have been killed over and over by actual data. It's a battle between Zombies and Vampires. It's a competition between two theologies, both proven to be false.
Sometime around 1980, conservatism changed. The seeds had been planted a few years before at a dinner table, when Professor Arthur Laffer drew a curve on a napkin, mesmerizing several notable Republicans, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
The idea was that, under some conditions, a decrease in tax rates could produce more tax revenue. If taxes were high enough, the attractiveness of return on risk and hard work would reduce to the point where people would not take financial risks and would not work hard. If that happened, reducing taxes might get folks to invest more and work harder. That would produce more tax revenue than the original higher taxes had been generating.
It was not a new idea. Economist John Maynard Keynes, whose ghost has been haunting the nightmares of conservatives for generations, had endorsed the idea way back when he haunted conservatives by being alive. It was a pretty old idea even then.
But Professor Laffer put it in graph form, which gave it an instant credibility, in a napkin sort of way.
The new part of the Laffer idea, apart from the curved line on the napkin, was that taxes at the very top rate, had gone above the point of reversed returns. If conservatives could get the top tax rate reduced, the economy would experience explosive growth, incomes would go up, and tax revenues would actually increase.
This was a little different from Keynesian theory. Keynes had suggested that governments in a recession could promote economic growth by spending lots more than they took in. They should generate deficits during hard times. The money flow would boost economic activity and get the economy out of the dumps. When this had generated enough growth, recession cured, and prosperity prevalent, spending should be cut or taxes raised so the deficits could be repaid.
When Ronald Reagan cut taxes for the very wealthy by lowering top rates to 50%, tax revenues fell. Some spending increased as well. This was what folks who follow such things call "structural deficits." This is automatic during a recession. Unemployment benefits go up. So do food programs for impoverished little kids, and other things that keep people from dying in the streets. Congress added other programs to boost things, and the economy began to look better.
Keynesian economics worked, and the Laffer napkin didn't.
Naturally, conservatives expanded their theory. Instead of insisting that, under certain conditions, tax revenues could be increased by cutting taxes, Republicans insisted that tax revenues would always, always, always go up if rates were cut. Always. This was regardless of circumstance. And it was regardless of the old or the new rates. That's kind of what always means.
It isn't hard to see the absurdity in the new dogma. You don't even have to go to the data, which actually does show that application of the conservative reduce-taxes-and-produce-more-taxes theology hasn't worked. You just have to think about what would happen if taxes were reduced to zero. That is to say nothing. Not no new taxes. No taxes period. Would rate of zero produce more taxes?
Everybody get the same answer?
The new type of economic conservatives called their adopted theology "Supply Side." And they went to war against uncooperative data.
One of the biggest generators of that uncooperative data in government has been the Congressional Budget Office, which everyone knows as the CBO. The CBO is required to "score" legislation before Congress votes on it. They run figures to show how it will affect the federal budget. Will it increase the deficit? Will it decrease it? What will be the side effects?
Conservatives get pretty mad when pesky liberals start waving around CBO reports to show how Republican proposals will hurt little kids, or old people, or veterans, or people in general. But they really get bug-eyed, red faced furious when the CBO says tax cuts on the very wealthy will increase deficits. The fact that CBO estimates usually turn out to be pretty reliable doesn't help much.
So conservatives have, for a long time, demanded that CBO personnel change the way they do the calculations. Conservatives have insisted analysts perform "Dynamic Scoring."
Dynamic Scoring adds revenue to the calculations on the theory that any tax cut on the wealthy will explode the economy and produce more revenue than is lost. The CBO has, so far, refused to part company with reality to that extent. They have always included a moderate degree of what you could call Dynamic Scoring, building in multiplier effects and calculating secondary and tertiary results. But they have stayed with proven data.
This outrages economic conservatives, and they have proclaimed a holy war in the name of Dynamic Scoring.
Which brings us to the Heritage Foundation.
You see, if there is anything paleo-conservatives hate, it's people who are different. That's why Pat Buchanan objects to war on the basis that too many of the casualties are white and not enough are black or brown. It is why Donald Trump seriously preached at CPAC, the recent conservative conclave, that immigration laws should be changed to let in more white immigrants from Europe, and fewer of those other people.
The Heritage Foundation performed an analysis and sent it around. It was on allowing immigrants who came here illegally a way to eventually become citizens. They did it in a way that was kind of laughable to serious students of immigration. Data was pretty selectively chosen. We can be thankful that it's unlikely to influence the immigration debate about to consume the attention of the Senate.
But here is what upset the new breed of economic conservative. The analysis didn't include Dynamic Scoring. In fact, it went way the other way. It didn't even include the traditional multiplier effects that everyone agrees on. It left out new taxes that would be paid, goods bought, paychecks generated, and so on. It amplified costs. Everything from infrastructure to medical care to food stamps to schools to wear and tear on sidewalks. Okay, I'm making up the sidewalks.
Most of all, it wasn't Scored Dynamically. The additional tax revenues and the reduced costs would allow more tax cuts for the extremely wealthy. Which, of course, produces more tax revenue. Immigrants, released from fugitive status will be more likely to begin businesses, generating more economic activity, with more tax revenue.
The horrible picture painted by anti-immigration activists and the bright sunshiny image of Eden held sacred by Dynamic Scorekeepers are clashing. It's like two virtual realities in some creative video game. It's like two contradictory conservative dream states. Nightmare versus sparkling blue skies.
What do you get when the Great Flood of Noah's time inundates the pits of Hell?
You get a lot of conservative steam.
And conservatives on one side are pretty steamed at bewildered conservatives on the other.
Enjoy it while it lasts. In the conservo-world of unity-through-mutual-hatred, the mighty and enduring centripetal force of Barack Obama will bring them all back together.
Conservative T. Paine and I have never met, except in writing. Yet we have become, over the years, close friends. One of the most difficult recent periods for my loved one and I was the deployment of our young Marine to Afghanistan. My friend's cautious encouragement was combined with prayer. We had a sense that he shared our fear.
One unexpected aspect of gnawing worry is the loneliness of it. The feeling that a distant friend was with us in spirit, that his hand was on our shoulder, that his pleas to God were as fervent as our own, was a greater blessing than he may have known.
Even our most bitter policy debates are pretty much devoid of the sort of venom often associated with political disagreement. That is partly because T. Paine is an unfailing gentleman. It is also because we simply like each other.
This exchange strikes me as one that a reasonable person (which is to say me) would find interesting.
T. Paine, at Saving Common Sense, goes after President Obama on abortion. Fair enough. In this case, he succumbs to the temptation to overstate his case. Two points strike me immediately. He cites the case of Kermit Gosnell, providing unsafe and illegal abortions to desperate women who cannot get safe and legal abortions under Republican state government. Murder of occasional live, viable babies is a sometime additional result. T. Paine seems to believe this is proof that safe and legal abortions are too available. He goes on to repeat a long ago discredited allegation that, years ago, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama promoted late term abortions, a old slur that I dealt with five years ago.
Mr. Deming, I was not singularly criticizing President Obama alone for our abortion culture. He is only one of the three major issues I discussed as contributing to our culture of death. I am certain that Obama would appreciate your defense of him nonetheless. Further, Obama’s record is quite clear on his pro-abortion stance. He received 100% ratings for many years from NARAL. As for his political support for abortion, the truth can be found here: http://www.ontheissues.org/social/barack_obama_abortion.htm
Further, I am incredulous that you think the murders attributed to “Doctor” Gosnell are simply indicative that women do not have easy access to safe abortions in Republican states. Last I checked, Pennsylvania and indeed the entire northeast part of the country is pretty staunchly Democratic. Indeed, in PA in 2008 (most recent data I found) the abortion rate was 17%. Nearly a fifth of all conceived children were aborted, in other words. It is even worse for neighboring New York where in 2009, 41% of all conceptions ended in abortion. Excluding miscarriages, nearly 60 percent of pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds in New York end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute analysis. Blaming the deaths of patients and their often born-alive children that Gosnell subsequently killed on a lack of access to abortion because of Republicans is the height of cynicism. Further, the argument simply does not hold water whatsoever.
How in the hell is abortion “safe” and “rare” when we have rates that high? By implication, do you think that the heinous murders by Gosnell would have occurred if there were MORE abortion clinics nearby? This ghoul was reported on numerous occasions to the state authorities, who did NOTHING. Having even more abortion clinics nearby would not have changed Gosnell’s practice and how he “helped” poor women.
Thank you, T. Paine.
I do not recall arguing that murders are "simply indicative that women do not have easy access to safe abortions." Murder is murder.
I do suggest that Pennsylvania is in the hands of a Republican state government that promotes the unintended consequence of back alley abortions.
I appreciate your new assertion that President Obama supports abortion rights. With some restrictions, that is true. Your original assertion was this:
"He himself effectively voted for, as an Illinois senator, for legislation authorizing even the most extreme forms of abortion which even many 'pro-choicers' find repugnant, such as 'partial birth abortion'."
That is why I directed your attention here:
If you believe I did not adequately correct your original assertion, I will be happy to answer any remaining question you have on that.
- Private Note from Burr Deming to T. Paine, May 6, 2013
(Referring to my last reply)
Are you actually going to let me get away with this without rebuttal?
Okay, perhaps that last turned out not to be so private. We'll see whether my friend is feels up to the task of tearing my lungs out in his next note.
Listen As You Go -
Forget Protecting Your Gun - Obama's After All Your Ammo - Click for Podcast
For Your Consideration:
Just to sum up, this year in MD:
Same sex marriage is legal
Medical marijuana bill passed
Death penalty has been repealed (this may be a referendum soon)
Undocumented immigrants can get driver's licenses
the implementation of the federal health care law requirements were signed into state law
early voting has been expanded
- cyberbullying is now a crime (although I think this was pretty much accepted by everyone)
From the Washington Post:
Maryland became the sixth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment when Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation Thursday repealing the death penalty.
The new law could face a challenge at the ballot box next year, however. A group that has led successful petition drives in the past said it would announce Friday whether it will move forward with an expected bid to put the issue to voters in November 2014.
The bill was the first to get the governor’s signature during a ceremony that included 265 other measures passed during the extraordinarily busy 90-day legislative session that ended last month.
- More -
Oh, and taxes are probably going up (if congress doesn't allow sales tax collection on internet sales, Maryland gets a higher gas tax)