What miracle is this? The magical talents of John Boehner should astonish us all. Consider. He produces an increase in taxes on millionaires and billionaires while simultaneously obtaining the public blessing of anti-tax militant Grover Norquist.
Mr. Norquist, speaking for his "Americans for Tax Reform" says this:
Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
The Boehner plan will allow tax rates on ordinary Americans to remain low, thus avoiding the fiscal cliff.
So extremely wealthy people must be pretty unhappy about this, right?
Well, there are some compensations that might make it easier for them. As Mary Poppins wisely teaches, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. That's not all that will go down.
Capital gains rates will go down by a lot. So, when a stockholder sells at a higher price than the stock was purchased, the tax on the profit will be less. So that's actually another tax break. That can be a pretty good deal, especially for someone who makes money in speculation. Well, if you take risk, maybe you should get a bigger tax break if you win really big, right? Think Mitt Romney. Think Bain Capital.
Those who don't do a lot of trading won't get that break. But they will get a big tax reduction on dividends.
Oh, did I mention other deductions for the extremely wealthy? There is a current limit on itemized deductions. It was suspended during the Bush administration, so the wealthy don't feel it at the moment. Under the Boehner plan, it will be removed permanently.
Those who get their wealth by inheriting it will also get a big tax break. Estate taxes will go down dramatically. So the kids and grandkids and great-grandkids of Thurston Howells, right down to Thurston Howell 3rd and beyond, will be grateful.
So, by and large, those living in huge mansions with expansive manicured lawns won't be suffering.
But the top rates will go up and that's what counts, right? Not on everyone the President said should pay a fairer share, but at least some will. Or they will if you don't count those profits and dividends and other breaks.
But at least the tax rate, now scheduled to go up for middle income and low income working Americans won't go up on the Republicans schedule. That's part of the fiscal cliff Republicans demanded the last time they held the American economy hostage back in July. Everyone's taxes were scheduled to go up on January 1 if an agreement isn't reached. Under the Boehner plan, that won't happen.
Now there are some trade offs. The Child Tax Credit will be cut in half. If you have four kids, you will still have a tax credit, but it will only be $2000, instead of the $4000 credit you get now.
The American Opportunity Credit is the tax reduction you get on tuition if you send your kids to college. That will be slashed. It's possible you'll get partial credit, but your taxes will definitely go up if you're sending your children to a higher institution of learning.
One of America's most effective anti-poverty programs has been the Earned Income Tax Credit. That was the result of many efforts at reforming programs to get those hurting economically. It depends on working and earning an income, so conservatives would like it in theory. Problem is, they don't. Incentives to work are okay, but when it comes to actually helping the working poor, it just sucks the enthusiasm right out of some folks.
So the Earned Income Tax Credit will be eliminated completely.
Those earning under $80,000 a year will get hit pretty hard. Those who ride the bus to work, those earning $40,000 or less will really get hammered under the Boehner plan.
But everyone must learn to give a little in negotiations, right?
President Obama may object to Representative Boehner's program, but that's just because he won't compromise enough. Republicans already said the President's concession, raising the income level for any tax increase from $250,000 to $400,000 was not enough.
In fact, some conservatives are already objecting to John Boehner's plan. It doesn't go far enough in keeping taxes low on those who are responsible for generating economic activity in this country, which is to say the very wealthy.
Those of us who support the President, members of the majority who actually voted him back into office for a second term, may feel that the wealthy should pay a larger share toward keeping things afloat. After all, that was the campaign we supported.
But we shouldn't worry. Mr. Boehner does have more to offer. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a host of other programs are among those Republicans are targeting for reductions. In fact, John Boehner has already promised to cut far more from those programs than will be gotten from any tax increases. In fact, Republicans will demand deeper and more profound cuts than the President has already pledged.
The increased benefits to the wealthy and the additional burdens for the working poor and the middle class can provide an important lesson for those who thought we had voted for something different.
John Boehner's accomplishment, getting permission from Grover Norquist for an increase in tax rates, may seem like political magic. But sometimes a magic act is only slight of hand. And slight of hand almost always involves misdirection.
Under this Republican plan, the rich get richer and the poor get children.
Frank Luntz has made quite a name for himself by manipulating language. He is a political consultant, a GOP strategist with a twist. His claim to fame is euphemism. He warned the Republican Party that universal health care was more popular than they had considered. So he guided them into a mythical world of "death panels." When obstruction eventually gave way to actual votes, he helped conservatives complain about "ramming the bill" through Congress.
During the Bush years, Republicans had used what is called a reconciliation process to pass the Bush tax cuts. It is an obscure procedure that can, in some cases, dodge the 60 vote Senate filibuster. When Democrats considered it in the fight for Obamacare, Luntz coined the phrase "nuclear option" to describe it. "Reconciliation" sounds kind of folksy. "Nuclear option" sounds scary and unfair.
In an interview in 2007, Luntz talked fondly of Orwellian phrases. "To be 'Orwellian' is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening," he told Terry Gross, "and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever."
The "without pejorative" part is defensive. When going on the offense, describing the opposition, pejorative is just what Dr. Orwell ordered. That is how estate taxes on billionaires become death taxes on small businesses and farmers.
Small business is the current Republican euphemism of choice for the wealthiest of Americans that Democrats say should carry a small increase in the very top tax rates. When calculating effects on small business, the GOP definition of small business is expansive. Mega-corporations with offices in a multitude of countries become small businesses. When describing specific small businesses, the Republican definition shrinks to the corner store, the flower shop, or the little, but growing, manufacturing firm, churning out furniture.
The proposal President Obama campaigned on, the proposal he detailed in his unanswered opening bid in negotiating with the band of Republicans would raise the very top rates by a touch more than 4 percent. Only that portion of income above $250,000 would be affected.
Republicans have managed to convince many business people that this would be a tax on gross income, income before expenses. Thus, a California business owner recently talked about how the prospective tax would destroy the increases in productivity he had sacrificed in order to get: "Growth has kept our income low, as we’ve invested back into the company in the form of additional jobs and equipment." Tax increases would force changes: "Bottom line, raising our taxes means we’ll quit growing, lay off people and stay under the $250k level for income."
Actually, it's only net income that is affected. If you put your income back into your business, it's not income.
And, Republicans have managed to obfuscate the meaning of marginal rates. If anyone's net income goes over $250,000 a year, any tax increase would only apply to whatever is over that $250,000.
If our California business owner pockets $250,010, after all business expenses, if the income left over after he finishes plowing the rest back into the business is $250,010, the increase would only apply to $10.
The first $250,000 would be untouched.
Slate magazine crunches the numbers.
If our California business owner does pocket $250,010 after expenses, after putting most everything back into the business, that would put him into a very exclusive club.
Even though only that $10 would be affected by the slight increase in taxes, he still would be among 3 percent of small business owners to pay even a nickel more than they are paying now.
97 percent of small business owners would be unaffected.
There is a more pernicious euphemism at work. The fact is that compromise mongers, whether consciously or not, are engaged in a little word play themselves.
Let's try this:
Revenues will go up, pundits say, but entitlements should be reduced substantially, much more substantially than Democrats seem to want. Government has to reduce its appetite if the approach is to be balanced. It's only fair for everyone to sacrifice. Both sides should give up something.
It's an easy premise to accept. Fairness dictates a balance that falls between extremes. Journalists press everyone for compromise. Moderation is, after all, a virtue. Nobody should be selfish.
Thus, in a harsh and persistent recession, those at risk are dealt with as abstractions. "Bloated government" and "entitlements" are the Luntz words that obscure who we really are talking about. Imagine a lapse in euphemism lasting long enough for partial clarity.
Tax rates on those who live in mansions will go up a couple of points, but medical treatments for wounded Marines should be reduced substantially, much more substantially than those combat veterans seem to want. It's only fair for everyone to sacrifice. Both sides should give up something.
There are others, of course, who can be substituted for combat heroes. You can rewrite the brief paragraph yourself. Try putting in little kids and breakfast programs. When that wears thin, go on to elderly folks and Social Security pensions, then teachers, next police officers, and Medicare recipients.
Okay, conservatives. You can take a break from reality now. Professor Luntz is waiting patiently for you at Fox News.
In Response to T. Paine's
Obama and the Democratic Cliff Conspiracy
Mr. Deming, you write as if gerrymandering was a concept recently developed by the Republicans. Surely you know that both parties have used this tactic for generations whenever they were in power to do so. I do understand in the progressive world of today though that there are definitely double standards with which we must contend.
Next, your beloved President originally was campaigning on a “balanced” approach to our financial woes. Originally he proposed a one to three ratio of revenue increases to spending cuts, as per the Simpson/Bowles committee. Obama asked for $800 billion in additional revenue be raised with some unspecified cuts added into the mix accordingly.
As always, it would be difficult not to be gratified at the generous contributions of T. Paine. That's a fact. He helps us out quite often, representing an unfailingly conservative point of view.
Hard to say where he gets his figures. It's possible that he is obliquely referring to last July's Republican hostage crisis. In that GOP threat to the economy, President Obama did revise an $800 billion dollar stance upward by $400 billion in early stages of the negotiations. His revision was in accord with, and in response to, the Simpson-Bowles recommendation Mr. Paine insists should have been followed.
As a condition of releasing their hold on the US economy, Republicans demanded and constructed the current fiscal cliff, the one we confront now. The President has issued a detailed proposal. Republicans have responded with a 3½ page screed. 2 pages are a furious attack on President Obama's proposal. It has seemed to me, in reading their expression of anger, that they are indignant that the President of the United States would have the audacity to act as if he had won an important election.
The remaining 1½ page of their angry letter consists of a demand that President Obama accept the loose set of principles that candidate Mitt Romney had campaigned on. This would be the campaign platform that those who notice such things might think was soundly rejected by the American public.
Republicans believe President Obama should be grateful for just those revenues from the wealthy gotten by closing exemptions, exemptions that will largely fall on the middle class. In return, Republicans demand much deeper cuts in medical and other benefits.
Which exemptions, which medical procedures, and which breakfast programs for little kids must be eliminated are not specified by Republicans. They demand that President Obama make those decisions, subject to the later approval of Republicans.
So far, President Obama has declined to negotiate with himself. He insists Republicans fill in their own blanks. Conservatives are furious at President Obama for insisting on a Republican response that carries that sort of detail. Although private negotiations are said to be ongoing, no Republican response has been made public, other than the demands made in their brief letter.
As to the gerrymandering, my only comment was a single sentence. I had carried an analogy as far as I could, and wound up with this:
The analogy begins to fall apart after that, because this dysfunctional family is elected, partly by popular vote (that's the Senate and the President) and partly by gerrymandering (that would be the House of Representatives).
President Obama is doing a good job of representing the people of the United States. Republicans represent their gerrymandered hold on the House of Representatives, to which they cling in spite of the opposition of most voters.
If some reader manages to infer more than that, I must share credit with some other source: perhaps the troubled conscience of anyone who extends my words beyond my simple observation.
T. Paine excepted, of course.
The fact remains that bill paying time is falsely called "the debt ceiling." Calling it that makes everyone think it's about raising the ceiling on debts. Actually what is falsely called "the debt ceiling" is a vote on whether to pay for debt that has already been created.
Not paying bills already voted on and agreed to by Congress puts our credit at risk and our economy in danger. That is why, from 1937 until recently, bill paying time was pretty much routine.
The new routine by a shrinking conservative minority is to hold the economy hostage for increasingly shrill demands. Tax breaks for the wealthy are to be preserved. Medical treatment, retirement pensions, teachers' salaries, police protection, breakfast programs for little kids, and more, must be slashed - although the President must decide how, according to Republican hostage takers.
If their ultimatums are not met, they threaten to use what obstruction they can to execute the American economy.
Republicans are currently frustrated by a President who seems determined not to play their game on their terms.
Last year, when Governor Rick Perry had yet to swallow his tongue during debate.
Reporter: "Why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs, when they don’t seem to be working? In fact, I think we [in Texas] have the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country right now."
Governor Rick Perry: "Abstinence works."
Reporter: "But we have the third-highest teen teen-pregnancy rate among all states in the country. The questioner’s point is, it doesn’t seem to be working."
Governor Rick Perry: "It — it works."
It isn't easy to discern why Republicans have come to disregard reality whenever it that reality is disrespectful to their deepest beliefs.
My own speculation is that reality denial finds ground most fertile in conservatism because of ideological roots. Most conservatives have a similar approach to research.
To be sure, conservative thought is not monolithic. There are variations, competing strains. What they have in common is some premise that is irreducible.
For paleo-conservatives in the Pat Buchanan mode, racial and ethnic tribalism is paramount. For many religious types, "We take care of our own" includes every child of God, and we are all God's children. For Buchanan, "our own" is uniquely confined to white folks, not counting Jews, who are excluded for ethnic reasons. Thus he expresses opposition to war because too many Jews support war and too many white folks die in war. Buchanan may be fading, but his view remains strong. Polls do reveal among Republicans a propensity toward something a little short of racism: perhaps a sort of racialism?
A tendency of some is not a definition for all. Neoconservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, all take their place in the pantheon of the right.
What they have in common is some core premise, not commonly accepted by those outside the circle: a premise that is not to be challenged.
Liberals tend to be more impromptu, even opportunistic when that opportunity is addressing some injustice or social malady.
My speculation may be true, it may be false. What is true is that conservatives of late have tended toward hostility toward facts.
Conservative Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute has joined with Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution in a critique of journalists for their own worship of balance. This year has been tough on Republicans. But it was especially tough on journalists who take their profession seriously.
Journalists, say Ornstein and Mann, feel a strong duty toward balance. But when one side goes off the rails to the extent Republicans have of late, balance becomes the enemy of documented truth.
"It's the great unreported big story of American politics," Ornstein said.
"If voters are going to be able to hold accountable political figures, they've got to know what's going on," Ornstein said. "And if the story that you're telling repeatedly is that they're all to blame -- they're all equally to blame -- then you're really doing a disservice to voters, and not doing what journalism is supposed to do."
Ornstein said the media's failure led him to conclude: "If you want to use a strategy of 'I'm just going to lie all the time', when you have the false equivalence meme adopted by a mainstream press and the other side lies a quarter of the time, you get away with it."
- Dan Froomkin interviewing Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann
for The Huffington Post
Last month, Republicans in Congress ordered a study. They wanted to document the horrible effects of President Obama's proposed tax change, allowing the maximum tax rate on the extremely wealthy to go from 35% back up to 39%. The Congressional Budget Office returned the results of exhaustive research. If all the Bush tax cuts expired right this minute, the economy would take a hit of 1.3 percent. Not a very good idea, but less than many of us would have expected.
If only those at the very top were affected, and only for each dollar higher than $250,000, the effect on the economy would be a tenth of a percent. That's .1 percent.
So Republicans threw up their hands and said that taxing the extremely wealthy at a slightly higher rate was not so bad after all. Right?
HA-HA-HA, foolish mortals!
Actually Republicans in Congress got very angry at the economic facts and ordered the Congressional Budget Office to rescind publication of the report. It became the economic analysis that never was.
It was retitled. The title was changed from
Economic Effects of Policies Contributing to Fiscal Tightening in 2013
We must never speak of this again.
Okay, I made the title change up.
But burying the report is a logical consequence of insisting on an unrealistic premise. A tax cut for the extremely wealthy will create so many jobs you can scarcely imagine. How do we know?
Congressional Republicans: "It — it works."
It seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, lots of our ideas seemed pretty good. The Music Director encouraged ideas from choir members, and I gave my share. They all seemed like good ideas. Every once in a while one of them worked. Most of them didn't, but how ya gonna know?
Once I suggested we start each hymn with a very short a capella solo, with our best singers taking turns performing a phrase from each hymn without accompaniment before having the congregation join in. It was a great idea, but members were shy, and it was hard without any music. Once I thought of change of key in the middle of a medley. That didn't work either. Other ideas did work, but the proof we got was from trying them out and letting them go if things didn't go right.
Keynesian economic theory worked pretty well in getting the country out of the Great Depression. The idea was that government finance should be counter-cyclical. When times were tough, government should spend more than it collected in taxes. In prosperous times, government should make up for all that by taxing more than it was spending.
It wasn't a universal cure for everything. Outside factors sure could mess things up. In the 1970s, gas prices spiked super high because of a relatively new group of a dozen or so nations. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, initiated an oil embargo because they were ticked off about war with Israel. In the aftermath, President Jimmy Carter presided over a time of both inflation and stagnation. Folks called it "stagflation." They also called Jimmy Carter "former President."
Deficit hawks have historically resisted the idea of counter-cyclical government action. It just doesn't seem right. You still hear variations of the same phrase from at least some national politician in every economic downturn. "Government should tighten its belt, just as ordinary families have to tighten their belts."
Aside from over a hundred years experience in what works economically, what is sometimes lost is that government is not some separate entity, a being that grows and shrinks with a steady diet. Belt tightening for government means cutting military spending or cutting a breakfast program for little kids, or slashing Social Security benefits, or telling a cancer patient there will be no more chemo treatments.
But even if those things were not true, increased deficits in bad times usually work to end recessions, and reducing deficits in good times tends to strengthen currency. The reverse of all that pretty much demonstrates the case. In Europe, austerity during a recession, starving the patient back to health, has deepened and prolonged economic hardship.
A counter argument to Keynesian economics looked like a winner back in Reagan days. It was also counter-intuitive, but it was easier to explain than counter-cyclical Keynesianism. It came to be called Supply Side economics. The idea was not exactly new. John Maynard Keynes had actually advocated it almost a hundred years ago.
If you tax something at a hundred percent, that thing will tend to disappear. That includes income. Why work if every penny gets taken from you? So a one hundred percent tax will not get much tax revenue, since 100 percent of nothing pretty much always gives you the same answer. And taxing something at zero percent also gives you no tax revenue because, well, you know. No tax gets you no tax revenue.
So somewhere in between there was a point of equipoise where you get the maximum amount of taxes. Tax more, and you get less. Tax less and you get less. Lines cross, balance is reached, a rising tide floats a lot more boats.
Republicans loved the idea that taxing less gets you more. It was a better sounding deal than trickle down. For one thing, trickle down could easily be made fun of. There wasn't that much appeal to a picture of ordinary people being trickled on by the very rich. But Supply Side sounded pretty good, and the graphs that came with it were Adam Smithic. It was kind of like quantum physics, going against common sense, but it was easier to understand, if someone just drew it for you on a napkin.
Problem was, it didn't seem to work.
Ronald Reagan put it into effect. He cut taxes on the very wealthy, and tax revenues went down. Oops.
So he had to impose a tax increase on ordinary workers and tax revenues went up again. Whew.
That was unexpected, unless tax levels were not yet at that magic point of equipoise. Conservatives pointed to John F. Kennedy's efforts to stimulate the economy with a tax cut. Taxes went down. Revenues went up. Yay-y-y-y. See? It worked once upon a time.
Problem with that bit of history was that the economy, and tax revenues, had already been growing through the 1940s and most of the 1950s. And top tax rates had been in the 90 percent range. Cutting taxes and seeing the same growth didn't prove very much.
President George H. W. Bush hid his lips, so nobody could read them, and increased tax rates. Tax revenues went up. Supply Side said that shouldn't happen.
President Clinton chewed on his lip and raised top tax rates again. Revenues went up again. In fact, for the first time since Lyndon Johnson's 1969 budget, a surplus appeared. Outgoing President Clinton presented to incoming President Bush the first budget surplus in over 30 years.
Republicans have not abandoned Supply Side economics. In fact, they have elevated it to a sort of Supply Side Theology. They no longer say that lowering taxes will increase revenues if the magic point of equipoise has been exceeded. Now they close their eyes, scrunch up their faces, and believe just as hard as they can that lowering tax rates will always, always, always, increase tax revenues. It's like watching Pat Robertson in very public prayer, and Pat Robertson praying in front of cameras is impressive indeed. He practically glows in the dark.
Recently, Republican rhetoric has gone from Supply Side, which doesn't sell as well right now, to a variation on trickle down. Trickle still doesn't sound quite right, but the message is still the same at the core. If tax incentives are given to the very wealthy, those wealthy folks will be energized and motivated to produce jobs. The term of choice has gone from "trickle" to "job creators." Give tax breaks to "job creators" and they will, naturally, create jobs.
Economics is not a precise science. It is hard to demonstrate to a mathematical certainty that any given economic theory is correct. For one thing, measurement is only exact in retrospect, and then only well after the fact. When President Obama took office, everyone thought the economy was shrinking at about 3 percent a year. As data came in, experts revised that number upward until the final figure was about 9 percent. They figured it out a year after it happened.
So much for economic measurement. The economy everyone thought was shrinking at 3 percent was actually shrinking at 9 percent. It's just that nobody knew it until a lot later. President Obama took a lot of conservative heat for making predictions of a lower unemployment rate based on that false beginning point.
And nobody knows for sure what the lag time is between government action and economic reaction. President Roosevelt got panicked by deficit hawks in 1936 and cut the deficit in 1937. 1937 saw the first economic stall of the Roosevelt recovery. He backed off and let the deficit go up, and the recovery, well, recovered. Conservatives say there were other causes. You never know.
When President Obama's first stimulus took effect, the shrinking economy started recovering, right exactly at that point in time. You look at a graph and the immediacy is startling. Nobody really thinks it was a 6 year delayed reaction to one of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but its not mathematically impossible.
Still, when you track the ebb and flow of economic activity and put it next to government actions, a pattern does look fairly solid. Higher taxes on the wealthy in the Clinton years sure do look like they caused no economic disruption. Tax cuts on the wealthy during the Dubya years really look like they failed to produce economic growth. In fact the economy was in a Katrina like state when Bush handed it to Obama to clean up, like Hercules at the Augean stables.
Congressional Republicans recently ordered the Congressional Budget Office to prepare a study on the terrible economic effects of the tax increase on the upper 2 percent that President Obama is insisting on. The CBO conducted that study and found that there was pretty much no effect at all. Raising taxes on the extremely wealthy was just fine for the economy.
That made Republicans pretty angry. They ordered the Congressional Budget Office to retract the study and pretend it never happened. The we-must-never-speak-of-this-again study seems iconic.
Republicans continue to insist that taxing the wealthy is bad for the economy and providing the wealthy with more tax breaks will increase tax revenues. It is a zombie idea, a walking-dead policy that reality testing will not kill.
I believe our church Music Director might have pointed out the sour notes, but I doubt he could have prevailed against religious doctrine.
In 2001, a popular local sports editor was murdered in Columbia, MO. Kent Heitholt had been working late that night. As he went to his car, he was assaulted and killed.
Pressure on authorities was intense. They had to solve the case. But solving it was a problem. There was not much to go on. Police had no witnesses to the crime. Janitorial staff in the building had been approached by a couple of teenagers who yelled to them from a distance to get medical help, that someone had been hurt. But there was no way to track down the youngsters.
Three years later, an incredible break came to them. Local kids had talked with a former classmate, a perennial loner, what we might call a druggie. He was known as a continuous stoner who was way beyond recreational marijuana. He was often out of his mind on hallucinogenic drugs. He told classmates that he had read about the unsolved murder, then had dreams that he had somehow participated.
Police picked up the outcast teen, Chuck Erickson, and interrogation began. The kid was cooperative enough, and a confession of sorts was quick in coming. It was a sort of negative confession. He had blacked out the night of the murder, and remembered nothing except what was in his dream.
Just a little pressure was enough to go in stages from not remembering a thing to maybe he had done it, he wasn't sure. A few more pushes and he was signing a confession.
But there was a problem. Erickson didn't seem to know key details. He couldn't recall exactly how the victim had died. Kent Heitholt had been strangled with his own belt, police told him. His surprised reaction is on video. "Really?"
A passerby had not seen the murder but had been interviewed by police. Erickson later said he had seen him go past, watching from a hiding place. He gave a description that included the wrong race, hair, and other characteristics. Anyone can make such mistakes, of course. What made this strange was that young Erickson made the exact same errors as those contained in a police report filed the night of the murder. It was more likely that he was parroting that police report than that he was, by an awesome coincidence, making the same series of mistakes.
He was driven to the area of the crime. He could not tell police where the murder had occurred. Police had to tell him.
The confession Erickson eventually signed contained the information he had initially missed. And it contained something else. Something very important.
He named a partner in crime. The fellow murderer was a classmate, one of the few in school who would befriend him. And Ryan Ferguson was also charged.
There were additional problems. A lack of any dependable witness was one. And DNA was another. The victim had a few strands of hair wrapped around and grasped in his hand. The hair did not match either of the teens.
But witnesses came forward. The main one was the janitor who had initially been unsure about the teens he had seen, the youngsters who had yelled to him to please call for medical assistance. In prison on another charge, he had experienced an epiphany and could remember. It had been Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson. They had been the two he had seen. He was positive.
The confession and the witness testimony were dramatic and forceful. Everyone in the courtroom found them compelling. The DNA evidence was mentioned, but never pursued.
Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson have been in prison ever since. Erickson received a lighter sentence. He had, after all, cooperated. There would have been no convictions, no trials, no suspects, if he had not come forward. Erickson got a 25 year sentence.
Ryan Ferguson had insisted that he was innocent. His term in prison was set at 40 years.
The prosecutor achieved some fame for putting away the the murderers and providing some closure to the family of the victim. He was elected a judge, largely on the basis of that conviction.
It was at that point the case began to unravel. What about that DNA: the strand of hair wrapped around the hand of the victim? Shouldn't the DNA have cleared the two youngsters? What about the details missed in the confession? And did it make sense that two teens who had just murdered a citizen would seek out witnesses to ask for medical intervention?
We began learning a little more from researchers about confessions. Not only could they be false, but a collection of false confessions seemed to share a lot of characteristics with that of Chuck Erickson. Young in age, drug users, dreams of the events, wrong details. A study of 40 false confessions in which DNA evidence had conclusively proven innocence provided important patterns. Chuck Erickson fit a nearly perfect profile of a false confession.
Experts on interrogation came forward. False confessions are a continuous problem. There are common sense steps that well trained investigators take to ensure confessions are genuine. Those steps had been reversed by the police in this case. Important details had been spoon fed to the stumbling teenager.
Two national news networks, CBS and NBC, have run specials on the case. Both left reporters and audiences skeptical. The cases did not make a lot of sense.
A new evidentiary hearing was held earlier this year. At that hearing, the experts on false confessions had a chance to testify. Chuck Erickson testified that he had made up the participation of his friend Ryan Ferguson. He had been told he would be given a lighter sentence in return.
The main witness, the janitor who had identified the teens, told the court he had made the entire thing up. He was trying to get a better deal in his own troubles with the law. He wept in court as he apologized to Ryan Ferguson and his family.
Last month, a remarkable decision came down from the judge.
The confession and the original testimony from the witness corroborating it appeared accurate to him. No reason to think the original case was not credible. No reason at all.
The DNA evidence? Missouri has a "direct connection rule." It appears the DNA from the hair in the victim's grasp would have established participation of a third party in a murder. And the direct connection rule says such evidence can't be allowed unless some specific person is named and a credible and direct connection is made.
To be admissible, evidence that another person had an opportunity or motive for committing the crime for which a defendant is being tried must tend to prove that the other person committed some act directly connecting him with the crime. The evidence must be of the kind that directly connects the other person with the corpus delicti and tends clearly to point to someone other than the accused as the guilty person.
- Nash v Missouri (pdf)
Apparently, not having the right perpetrators, they cannot consider evidence proving the innocence of the ones they do have.
Or, as Charles Dickens put it in Oliver Twist:
"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is an ass - an idiot".
Star Wars fans will remember the cantina in the first of the never ending series of movies. It is where Luke and Obi Wan first meet Han Solo. People recognize takeoffs of the bar music, a sort of futuristic techno jazz piece, contrived to be convincing to the average film goer as the product of a small galactic band.
The most memorable dialogue from Star Wars comes as Imperial stormtroopers hunt for escaped robots, droids. They confront the little group of adventurers, and Obi Wan effortlessly leads the escape. It is our first introduction to "Jedi mind tricks." Obi Wan looks at the trooper in charge and calmly says, "These are not the droids you're looking for." The trooper turns to his subordinates. "These are not he droids we're looking for."
This also was our introduction the city of Mos Eisley. Less remembered was Obi Wan Kenobi's description. "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."
Yesterday, we witnessed everything everyone hates about Washington DC all rolled into a single Senator. If Obi's phrase were more widely engrained in popular culture we would have seen it applied to the Capitol Building. It certainly captured what most of the public has to be thinking as they consider the center of national political life. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Republicans devoted the weeks leading up to the election falsely characterizing savings that they, and Democrats, had managed to squeeze out of medical corporations in Medicare reforms. Three quarters of a billion dollars of routine overcharges that hospitals, insurance companies, and other mega-corporations had become accustomed to pocketing were taken away, all without affecting health care for seniors. Hospitals went along with little protest on the hope of increasing patient volume as Obamacare made medical coverage more affordable.
Republicans adopted the reforms, even putting them into versions of the Ryan budget that conservatives passed in Congress. It was one thing everyone had agreed to.
Then Republicans put ad after campaign ad on television, radio, and handbills describing the savings as a raid on Medicare by those evil Democrats. It was nearly as phoney as those bogus ads about car manufacturers shipping auto jobs to China.
That was during the time leading up to the election. As soon as that was over, things changed really quickly. Republicans have devoted every day since to demanding slashes into the bone and sinew of the Medicare program. The most detailed demand has been to raise the retirement age, the age of Medicare eligibility, to 67.
Republicans have been treating the American public to a ringside seat, an entire section of seats, as they go after programs they had promised, on their mother's and grandmother's heads, to protect. At the same time, they have fought tooth and nail for Romney-like proposals to lower tax rates on the wealthy, promising to work later on the elimination of unspecified tax deductions.
A small but growing contingent of Republican public servants have suggested giving up what has become a public relations disaster: the conservative fight to slash medical care to the elderly, elimination of breakfast programs for hungry little kids, and destruction of job training for veterans, all while demanding more tax cuts for the wealthy.
The light begins to come to a few. Accept Democratic tax cuts for the middle class, they are suggesting, and live to fight another day to slash and burn "entitlements." After all, there is the debt ceiling vote coming up.
So a third way is developing in which Republicans can publicly lose their unpopular stand now, and hold the American economy hostage later on. Just promise down the road to default on our bills unless the President backs down and agrees to end programs for the poor and middle class. Hold up payments to contractors, paychecks to employees, ammunition to troops in combat, Social Security checks. Surely the public will respond with enthusiasm.
All of which leads to this. Democrats, including the President, are saying they won't negotiate with hostage takers next year, whether they are terrorists in some foreign land or conservatives in the House or Senate.
Democratic Senators have begun reviving a Republican idea from last year. Let's give the President the authority to pay all bills owed, unless the House and Senate specifically vote to hold him back.
No hostage taking. No negotiating. No takeover by a shrinking minority of legislators by obstruction.
Yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Bubble Land) finally had enough. Surely the American public would not stand for such a power grab by the President. Democrats, he reasoned, must know they are going too far in pushing such a proposal. He would call their bluff, and make them squirm. He would introduce a bill to do exactly what Democrats want. Let them face the alternative of backing down or experiencing a public furious at the giving away of traditional Senate privilege.
Senator McConnell introduced a bill to give everything to the President that Democrats had demanded. Then he waited for the dominoes to fall.
He was surprised to discover that reality was somewhat different than he had imagined. The public, and therefore Democrats, and therefore the upcoming vote, were all turning out to be very different than he and all his associates had imagined. The public has been outraged, alright. For the most part, they have been blaming Republicans for more obstruction. By wide margins they have been supporting Democrats in general and the President in particular to solve the economic impasse.
And Democrats, far from dreading his little trap, eagerly stampeded to embrace it. Let's end the hostage taking, let's deliberate without all the threats from a minority of militant conservatives.
What happened next fit in nicely with the other Senate debate, the one on filibuster reform. Mitch McConnell had been speaking furiously about that as well.
Watching the thundering herd of Democrats rushing toward the McConnell Let-the-President-Pay-Our Bills proposal, he did what had never, ever, been done in the entire history of the United States Senate.
Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill.
There it was, all in one Senator's desperate maneuver. The assault on the elderly, on veterans, on little kids. The protection of the extremely wealthy from pre-Bush tax levels. Holding the economy hostage. Obstructionism through filibuster, filibuster, filibuster. On. His. Own. Bill.
What in the world was he thinking? It is as if, ever since the election, the minds of Republican lawmakers have been seized by those who would do them harm. They seem oblivious to message they send. In some strange sort of blindness, they are convinced that the public is behind them all the way. What those lawmakers miss is that the public behind them are carrying pitchforks and torches.
The voice booming across the land might not be widely recognized from its cinematic origins, but the message is compelling. Ordinary people, when they glance toward Washington seem to have the same reaction to Republicans: "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."
We see Mitch McConnell confronting Democrats, filibustering his own bill, the bill he sponsored, the bill he introduced. The camera pans briefly to Harry Reid, and I wonder what thoughts are going through his head as he watches his esteemed colleague perform for the public. I wonder about what Jedi mind trick is sent as his gaze projects toward the poor lost Mitch McConnell. "These are not the droids you're looking for."
We watch as Senator McConnell pauses. His eyes glaze just a little as he departs from his prepared text. "These are not he droids we're looking for," he repeats.
We can utilize what talents and abilities we have to continue on and get past whatever circumstance has us at a disadvantage or we can whine and look to the government to help us because we are poor victims.
- T. Paine, December 3, 2012
This makes the false assumption that everyone in a bad situation can overcome it. That is absurd: some can, some cannot. Lots of people can do everything within their capacity to overcome their situation and still not overcome it. My mother was one such person. Her son, not of working age, was another. I was oppressively poor until I was in my 30's. I did have the tools needed to overcome my situation, and so I did, eventually, after half a life of suffering. My mother suffered her whole life. She lacked the tools I had.
As long as we use limb-deficient dogs to decide how humans should be treated, as odd as it sounds, we will form false conclusions based on false paradigms.
Join me in the real world, Mr. Paine, and together we will all overcome. Your happiness, your success, your American dream, are not contingent on the misery of others, no matter how unintuitive that may seem to you now.
John Myste also writes for his own site, where wisdom is never contingent on the misery of others.
Please visit John Myste Responds.
"They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love"
I have always hated that idea.
How will they recognize the Jews, the Muslims, me?
- J Myste, September 11, 2011
... and whether they attend service on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or not at all. (Although that's not especially useful, since lapsed Muslims/Jews/Christians also fit in that last category. Which brings up the question: if someone were to be a lapsed atheist, how could you tell?)
- Tim McGaha, September 12, 2011
I understand those who believe that a separation of church and state extends to a separation of faith based values and politics. I can't join them in that, however.
Separation of church and state is a constitutional argument. It is also more than that. It is an ethical question of simple fairness. Just as I would not wish to be coerced into contributing my time, money, or, through representative government, my support for some religion in which I do not believe, so I object to imposing my religion on others. I would object to a government plan to require support from non-Christians for Christian observances.
But my faith teaches me values that I think transcend religious boundaries. I believe they should influence the way I vote.
Recently, I participated in a journey to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. A large group of religious folk fanned out and visited with state lawmakers. We lobbied vigorously for changes. We were a Christian group, representing hundreds of churches across the state, congregations involving tens of thousands of worshipers. But I don't see that our objectives would have been uncomfortable for those of most any religion, or for those of no particular faith at all.
A large consent degree had been obtained from banks who had engaged on questionable activities. They had been confronted by a consortium of state Attorneys General. One was Chris Koster of Missouri. We petitioned state legislators to dedicate those funds to helping those homeowners who had been defrauded. The funds should not go to satisfy state budgetary requirements.
We asked that a state regulation keeping one time drug offenders from ever in life getting food stamps for their children be overturned. A measure was being sponsored by a Republican legislator after he met, quite by accident, a constituent in line at a drug store in his area. He couldn't understand how a rapist or a murderer or any other offender could serve a prison term, then be eligible for help in feeding children, but a reformed drug offender could not.
Other similar requests were on our list.
One consistent theme was that legislators see beyond their spreadsheets to real people, actual human lives that were being touched by their decisions. We understood that finance and budgetary obligations were requirements that had to be met. If our representatives could not find ways to help those in need, we asked them to try harder before giving up.
Yesterday, there were developments in negotiating around what is being called a budgetary fiscal cliff. National Republicans offered a counter response to President Obama. I hear pundits talk about both sides giving something up, with compromise as the ultimate objective.
I sometimes wonder if there is something in human nature that compels those of us in comfortable circumstance, experiencing relative good health, with food on the table, and shelter as an unquestioned part of daily life, to look at actual people who lack such safe assumptions, and see instead some substitute. If we saw real people, would we be so complacent in suggesting that chemotherapy treatments for a cancer patient be cut back as a necessary compromise? Would we be comfortable bargaining away a breakfast program for an elementary school kid on the principle that middle ground is the best ground of all?
There are legitimate political points to be made. I will be one of those making some of them. An election was held. A majority rejected an approach that would cut back on aid to those needing temporary help while providing additional tax cuts to the very wealthy. That majority was reflected in votes for President and for those up for election to the US Senate. Those votes were also reflected in totals cast for the House of Representatives. A majority of voters cast ballots for Democrats, although accidents of geography joined with gerrymandering to preserve a Republican House.
Any budget proposal that does not take that majority into consideration seems unrepresentative to me. To what extent should a representative government be unrepresentative?
And there are legitimate economic points to be made. Deficit reduction is rational during easy times of prosperity. During hard times of recession or recovery, jobs and economic growth must be the priority. Deficits actually help with that, to be paid back when hard times become a bad memory.
More serious, though, is a loss of vision. My faith teaches me that there is intrinsic value to every human soul. It is not earned and cannot be affected by what we say and do. We are valued by a beneficent Creator and there is nothing we can do about that. Jesus referred to a love of neighbor as nearly identical to a love of God, one flowing directly from the other.
But I don't think my faith is required for those of good will, of any faith or no faith at all, to agree that there is something terribly wrong in quantifying people, reducing them to objects of less than the worth of a number, and do it without a second thought.
Seeing real people as no more than a plus or minus in negotiations, bargaining chips in an everyone-must-give game, strikes me as a sort idolatry in reverse. It is akin to spitting on holy ground.
People, children of God, should be regarded as more holy than the ground.
A Burmese Journalist speaks of American diplomats:
For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious.
- The Ugly American
by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, 1958
The journalist is fictional, a composite based on hundreds of interviews. The plot is about American interests and ideals being subverted by American obtuseness. But the structure of the book is a series of vignettes, little stories woven together into a theme. The title was a bit of a double entendre. Certainly it referred to the isolated and obtuse stereotype. But it was also taken from an in and out figure that is not, not, not, one of those subjects. The character has a better sense of how to express American ideals, how to advance the American cause. The Ugly American is a aging US visitor to a fictional Southeast Asian country who becomes embedded. He stays, devoting himself to finding practical ways to improve life.
This ugly American, the ordinary looking American who cares, becomes the undeclared model of what a US diplomat ought to be, and frequently was not.
Actually, the Ugly American, the book's good kind, was thought to have been modeled after a real person, Otto Hunerwadel, a worker for a non-governmental organization who served in Burma with his wife until he died in 1952. They lived in villages, interacting with residents to start small industries and assist with farming techniques.
The book was intensely researched, critical to the point of outrage, but hopeful in outlook. Far from an anti-American screed, it took as its thesis that American principles, and a practical war of ideology were being lost because of ineptitude, arrogance, and laziness. It was a call to action in a discouraging time.
The book hit with a splash that became a tidal wave. It had impact. A back benching US Senator, John F. Kennedy, sent a copy to every Senate colleague, asking them to review it. Opinion leaders, including Kennedy, took out newspaper ads asking every American to read the book. President Eisenhower launched a review of American aid programs and instituted reforms.
This year's assassination of an ambassador in Benghazi has prompted a very proper uproar. The loss of a US ambassador and three other employees is a very big deal. Answers are demanded. The problem is that the fury has become associated with a parallel anger toward President Obama for winning reelection. Proving to the American people that they made a terrible mistake has become paramount.
Actual available evidence, testimony, summaries of testimony, unclassified documentation, are all ignored by those possessed by a higher mission.
Partisans seize on the musings of Fox News personalities, Rush Limbaugh type opinion makers, and various online publications as primary evidence of their suspicions. Our own favorite conservative, T. Paine cites a New York Post editorial as one of "multiple credible sources" and chides another writer: "you and the Obama apologists are seemingly unbothered" by his evidence.
The nearly incoherent outrage of Republicans obscures other questions that should provoke two deeper levels of investigation and introspection.
The most obvious is what sort of security is provided to foreign service personnel in a dangerous world. In this case, were there actual lapses? Was misinformation a symptom of a systemic problem? If so, can it be corrected? Should policy be changed?
The less obvious, the more important, has to do with the level of danger ambassadors and their associates should be willing to undergo for a larger good.
This single book, The Ugly American, transformed US diplomatic practices for more than a generation. Its influence lasted up to September 11, 2001. From that date, embassies became more fortress-like, more isolated.
The tension between intelligence and security is acute for any US representative in a trouble spot. Since the Eisenhower administration, ambassadors have been charged with gathering a strong sense of the direction of public mood, public anger, public support in whatever land to which they are assigned. Now they are encouraged to do that with a sense of prudent security.
The representative who takes occasional risks, the Ugly American who mingles, cares, and reports, the one who can tell the President how reality is actually shaped, can be lost to obscurity if we go too strongly in one direction, and to physical danger if we go too far in the other.
The unexamined premise of Republican rage is that the ugly American US ambassadors should exemplify should be isolated and completely safe. In their eagerness to relitigate the last election, the one they so miserably miscalculated, they are missing an important opportunity to contribute to American security in a dangerous world.
The direction of Republican rage depends largely on whether that opportunity is more important than the effort to convince the American people that they made the wrong choice, made it twice, and should repent at last for not choosing a better leader, which is to say one of the attackers.
Not quite a year and a half ago my excellent friend (that, by the way, is for real) and frequent debating antagonist T. Paine sent in a comment that contained this sentence: "I have met many a liberal who's god was the state."
Actually, I have met many liberals myself. I often see one in a mirror. I have met anti-war liberals. I have met Kennedy liberals. I have met cold-war liberals. I have even met one or two "radiclibs" of Spiro Agnew nightmares. That last is rare but I can testify to their existence. I have never encountered one, not one, who worshiped the state. I have never found one who glorified the state. I have never found one who did not regard government in general or politicians specifically with some skepticism.
Kathleen Geier, who writes occasionally at the Washington Monthly, made the case more succinctly, contrasting conservatism, which is captive to abstract, rigid ideas of what is right, proper and must be enforced, with its opposite:
Whereas American liberalism, rooted in the pragmatism of John Dewey and other philosophers, tends to have fewer stringent, a priori ideals and is more improvisational, practical, and interested in solving problems on a case-by-case basis. For instance, contrary to what conservatives claim, most liberals don’t have any ideological commitment to big government per se, but we do realize that a strong federal government is often necessary to perform important functions we believe in, such as providing retirement benefits for senior citizens, and universal health care for all.
I like "improvisational." It's a good word. Descriptive. Most of the things liberals believe in are conditional. I like big government as long as it gets us to where we ought to go. I don't much care for it when it doesn't. Government has no intrinsic value. I would worship government in the same sense that would have worshiped the bus I once rode to work, which is to say not in the slightest. It got me where I needed to go.
Most liberal ideas are that way. Taking from the poor to give to the rich is manifestly unfair on the face of it, manufacturing misery in order to benefit those who are already well off. So most of us favor a safety net with additional help for those who want to climb the economic ladder. Progressive taxation seems fair as well. Those of us who are well off should pay a higher percentage than the single mom who rides the bus to her minimum wage long-hours-each-day job. Fair is fair.
Some liberal ideas are simply what will promote the general welfare. Traffic laws, speed bumps, food and safety inspections. Are public sidewalks socialism because they are funded by government? Doesn't bother me. If that's your definition, then I'm fine with the accusation of favoring socialistic sidewalks, along with socialistic police protection, and socialistic traffic signs. I'm even for a publicly funded military. A privatized army would kind of make me nervous.
We can think of analogies. None are perfect, but they can serve to illuminate meaning. If I have an urgent reason to get from point A to point B, perhaps a desperately ill friend who has to be carried, I will look for the fastest way possible. Will that take me over a hill? Should I go around it instead? That will simply depend on what will fulfill my objective. A buddy who wants to help, insists we go on a longer route. He doesn't believe in hilltop travel. We argue for a moment. He says: "I have met many a traveler who worships hills."
Keynesian economics is an example of such a hill, taking us to our destination. Counter-cyclical government finance, deficits in bad times, surpluses in good times, seems counter intuitive to the deficit hawk conservative. It is, in fact, the opposite of what common sense might lead you to believe. Spend more during belt-tightening lean times. Pay it back in times of bountiful harvests. How can that work?
Well, I do recall a preacher explaining that the bumble bee is not suited for flight. The bee doesn't know it and flies anyway. The acid test of a theory is less whether it seems instinctive in theory and more whether it works in practice. In the real world, the last hundred plus years has provided evidence that counter cyclical government financial activity works.
The economic crisis itself has provided some guidelines on how to get back on our feet. For a while, American conservatives pointed to Europe as the model we should follow. Ireland, France, Spain, provided the examples of sacrifice and austerity that would, in the end, pay off. Ireland was the third fastest growing economy in the world. Those governments were engaged in the belt tightening that individual families had to go through. Seems fair. Why should government spend like a profligate while individuals suffer?
Even Greece, that spend and spend some more society had reached a point of having to pay the piper. Serves 'em right, doesn't it? But a little austerity will help even them.
You don't hear that argument as much anymore. Oh, we hear a lot about austerity. The entire pundit class and economic-level fellow travelers are preoccupied with shared sacrifice. Everyone has to give a little. The family in a mansion with manicured lawns and a servant or two might have to give up a few tax breaks. So the guy on Medicaid should be willing to give up a few chemo treatments in return. Fair is fair. Government should tighten its belt, and that means reducing medical "entitlements." Shared sacrifice sounds nicer than it is.
The argument you don't hear much anymore is about the wonderful results of austerity in Europe. Starving the patient back to health seems to be deteriorating pretty much every economy who is trying it. In 2012, a list of the 30 slowest growing economies includes most of the countries conservatives were pointing to as models for the United States a year and a half ago.
The fastest growing economies are dominated by oil producers and those coming out of centuries of impoverishment. A small base makes a high percentage of growth unremarkable.
One of the fastest growing economies among developed nations is that of the United States. It went from about 170th last year to what looks like seventh this year.
As Curly said over 20 years ago, "Day ain't over, yet." And neither is 2012. Even then, figures take a while to compile. It was not until a year later that economists were able to confirm that the US economy at the start of the Obama administration in 2009 was not shrinking at 3 percent, but rather at 9 percent. What we do know is that the hopeful direction of the United States provides a contrast with that of Europe.
Pumping more money back into the economy during a tough recession, cutting back to pay for it during an economic surge, that seems counter to common sense, but it works. It really does.
Austerity in good times, taxes and reduced spending just to work down the national debt, seemed pointless to conservatives ten years ago. Big spending now that times are hard seems irresponsible to those same conservatives. There is nothing of intrinsic value in either approach, at least not to liberals like me. The only virtue is that the economic strategy has been tried and it usually works. It's a walk over hilly terrain, but its the quickest way there.
I don't know anyone, anyone at all, who is in love with the theories of John Maynard Keynes. Just like I have never ever met anyone who simply adored the idea of big government.
But the talk of a grand bargain to quickly cure the national debt just as we teeter on the edge of recovery makes me as nervous as a GREEK URN on the edge of a tall fireplace mantle.
What's a Greek Urn?
A lot less than before austerity began.
The West Wing was a fictional series about an intelligent, which is to say Democratic, administration. I enjoyed the made up President Jeb Bartlett His make believe Presidency sustained me through most of the Bush administration, the second one, the most destructive one.
One of my favorite episodes of The West Wing dealt with a Presidential gaffe and efforts of White House staff to deal with it. During a series of remote campaign season interviews with television stations from around the country, President Bartlett stays on line with a reporter. He makes a few off camera remarks about the middling intelligence of his likely Republican opponent and how competence is important in a dangerous world.
It doesn't seem to matter that the insult was unintended. The opposition party goes into a berserk level of fury, demanding an apology. Staffers insist the President just didn't know the camera was still live, but the whirlwind continues.
As the furor goes on and on, one member of the administration gets an epiphany. Is it possible that it is a singularly unwise strategy for Republicans to dwell and dwell and dwell on the possible incompetence of their own candidate? Toward the last, she confronts President Bartlett. You knew all along, she says, that the camera was still on. The President smiles and just moves on.
I thought about that episode during that horrible foreign trip for poor Mitt Romney. The Republican candidate fell over his tongue so many times it looked like vaudeville minus the baggy pants.
Mitt insulted the British handling of the Olympic games, comically forgot the name and misspoke the title of the opposition party leader, and screwed up common English idioms to the extent of implying that he had looked outside the Prime Minister's hindquarters. That was after sending two high ranking aides to make the case to a conservative publication. Those attending the meeting took the reasoning for a President Romney to be a racist presentation. And that was just the first country visited.
It occurred to me that President Obama might want to make a Jeb Bartlett "mistake" about Governor Romney's intelligence. But I supposed that would be so close to plagiarism that it would be noticed. Instead, President Obama made a straightforward observation that the hapless Governor was a bit inexperienced. No clever little gaffe. Just a this-side-up opinion.
In fact, after the assassination of the US Ambassador to Libya as he visited Benghazi, President Obama made a gaffe of his own, and conservatives went to town with it.
The Ambassador was killed one Tuesday night, and the response of the Muslim Brotherhood backed President of Egypt was maddening. The first reaction of Mohamed Morsi Wednesday morning was, well, nothing. After pretty much every other leader of note strongly condemned the killings of the Ambassador and three other Americans, Morsi ventured a tepid acknowledgement that something had happened. He expressed his powerful anger at the video that had caused widespread demonstrations. Then he assured one and all that the Egyptian government recognized that it had an obligation to protect residents of embassies.
The forceful denunciation of a video accompanied by a lukewarm assurance that governments ought to do their duty was met with some derision and much concern. It provided quite a contrast with the contrite apology of Libya and that country's strong condemnation of the killers. What sort of leader did Egypt have?
At that critical time of crisis and death, President Obama made his own gaffe. He was asked whether Egypt could be considered an ally. He answered:
"I don't think we would consider them an ally. But we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that's trying to find its way."
Within a day, the Egyptian leader revised and extended his remarks. In a second statement, Morsi went beyond his perfunctory assurance of embassy protection to something made of sterner stuff.
"This is an act that we reject, and such an act is rejected by Islam as well.
"Those who are attacking the embassies do not represent any of us. At the same time, on my behalf and on behalf of the entire Egyptian people, I'd like to issue my sincere condolences and my deepest concerns, and I strongly condemn the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi and those who were with him."
His remarks were broadcast on Nile TV.
At the time of his election, we had two visionary, but dim, hopes about Mr. Morsi. One was that his popularity would fade with time. The other was that perhaps he would adopt a more peaceful attitude toward Israel. Now it looks like the first wish may interfere with the second.
It occurs to me, watching the tenuous cease fire between Israel and Hamas, an agreement brokered by Mr. Morsi, that there was something more to President Obama's little mistake.
"They were democratically elected. I think we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel."
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite looks to the behind-the-scenes activity leading up to the truce and suggests that we should be thankful that Barack Obama is President of the United States.
Perhaps that gratitude should include artfully contrived mistakes that might communicate more than a direct warning.
President Bartlett would be proud.
Scandals typically involve motives.
Watergate was about power.
So was the "fair game" policy toward CIA operatives during the Bush/Cheney years.
Tonkin Gulf was about policy.
So were the mushroom cloud fantasy fabrications leading to the Iraq invasion.
Watergate led to several jail sentences, although not for the primary conspirator. The "fair game" policy led only to an ancillary conviction for the coverup, not the crime. A presidential pardon made that semi-disappear.
Tonkin Gulf and the mushrooms led only to historical disrepute.
In Benghazi, a terrible tragedy fell over the United States foreign service as a US Ambassador was killed, along with three career employees.
The scandal behind the assassinations seems to elude a howling Republican pursuit. Susan Rice was initially held to be responsible for misinformation that was force fed to Congress, the press, and the public. She, and the administration, responded that she had simply articulated the best unclassified information that the administration had at the time.
This is what she said on Meet the Press the Sunday after the attack, after cautioning that nothing was yet known for sure:
Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.
General Petraeus was put into a hearing. He said that he had been certain from the beginning that terrorists were behind the killings. AHA.
But he went on to say that a consultation of several agencies, the normal procedure, had produced the reports that had been given to the administration and to Susan Rice.
After the testimony, Senator Dianne Feinstein read from the original authorized intelligence talking points that had come from those agencies.
The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the United States embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault.
If Ms. Rice was not guilty of anything other than innocently adding coherence to carefully worked out intelligence gathering, keeping the public as informed as was she, then she is a scapegoat for others who acted dishonestly, right? After all, she did provide information that was later proven false. This narrative would make her the Scooter Libby, sort of, of the Obama Presidency.
There are two main difficulties in producing a coherent theory behind that coverup.
The first is the paucity of what is covered up. Republican rage centers on the manipulation of information to keep from the American people the fact that a US ambassador was killed by terrorists acting without cover by any enraged crowds. Ostensibly the motivation was to keep alive the pre-election story that President Obama had ordered the killing of the most notorious terrorist in living memory. If that cover up actually happened, it has to rank among the tiniest of motivations possible.
It is hard to imagine a voter who would be swayed by the information that al Qaeda is still strong enough to send a dozen armed gunmen to storm a compound. It is hard to imagine a voter who would think other voters would be affected by that knowledge. It is even harder to imagine a strategist contemplating such a thing.
It is possible I am missing something, of course. But whether the assassins had the benefit of crowd cover or acted in the silence of the night would have had little effect on the public standing of the President. It would be about as important a public consideration as whether the killers parted their hair on the left or the right.
The second difficulty is the magnitude of the conspiracy needed to carry off such a coverup, even temporarily. A substantial number of administration officials would have had to have been so delusional as to engage in a scheme involving the changing of intelligence documents. It is not easy to imagine the shared degree of confidence that would have been necessary that the change would go unnoticed by the very agencies who collaborated on the documents.
It would have to have been a staggering effort by a massive number of people with enormous political and legal danger, all for miniscule benefit.
John McCain has been chosen, pretty much by chance, as the team leader in launching demands for accountability. That chance has been somewhat unfortunate. While expressing outrage at not being provided with a clear account of how intelligence reports were formulated, Senator McCain missed hours of briefings held to provide a clear account of how intelligence reports were formulated. His office blamed mistakes in scheduling that took him out of session with officials sent by intelligence agencies to provide information, putting him instead in front of television cameras complaining of a lack of information.
Which leaves us with a difficult Republican storyline.
The motive for any administration scandal is difficult to discern.
The motive for Republicans pursuing such a scandal is obvious as a hot sun on a cloudless summer day.
In response to Burr Deming's How Republicans Will Change Minds
If a decent regard of other groups as human beings to be sought and listened to and reasoned with is considered an approach that is exclusively leftist, Republicans are dooming themselves to a deliberately shrinking minority.
- Burr Deming, November 15, 2012
Burr, my friend, in some respects I actually agree with your underlying thesis here. For the record, I don’t despise or hate those that voted for Obama. Heck, I find myself awash in friends and family members (gulp!) that did so, yourself absolutely included, and I live in a state where Romney received 70% of the vote. I don’t blame the politicians. Okay, I do blame them some, but they are nothing more than the reflection of the voters’ wishes. In other words, we get the government for which we vote.
The problem is that history, civics, and economics ? grand sweeping ideals of liberty and the preservation of it have been lost in the Republican message. It is awfully hard to carry the fight to the ballot box against misnamed “free healthcare” and Obama-phones for the poor when one tries to preach the necessity of personal responsibility. It is a lot like telling your young child that they must eat their vegetables before they can have chocolate cake for dessert. “But Dad, I don’t like vegetables and chocolate cake tastes so yummy!” Indeed, but in the long run, one’s health is in peril if one lives on a strict diet of chocolate cake and the like, while avoiding vegetables and responsibility at all costs.
While the Democrats were often masterful in framing the debate by claiming nonsensically that the GOP was waging a war on women, the meme nevertheless stuck. The GOP was flummoxed and rather than try to explain to the American populace why having tax payers fund abortions, sterilizations, and contraception for everyone was a very bad idea, they basically responded with the juvenile response of “No we aren’t; you guys are waging a war on women.”
The underlying problem is that there is far too much ignorance in this country today. I don’t mean that as a pejorative, but in the actual definition of the word. Many of us don’t understand or willfully ignore the fact that we cannot get something for nothing. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a good example of that. Despite the disorganization of the movement, the bottom line is that they wanted free stuff. They wanted their student loan debts forgiven. They wanted expanded entitlements. And they wanted those evil rich people who weren’t paying their fair share to cover it all. They wanted more cake. They don’t realize that if you tax 100% of the income from those evil rich, you would only be able to run the country for a few months at best, and then you would likely not have the companies and jobs that were attached to them in existence anymore. You certainly wouldn’t be able to go back and tax them again.
They want their employers to provide free contraception, even if it is against their moral or religious principles to do so (to say nothing of their 1st amendment rights). They want free cake! The consequences are that businesses and churches and charities and Catholic hospitals that refuse to compromise their principles will likely just go away rather than give in to such mandates. The results will be fewer jobs, fewer charitable organizations to help the needy, and fewer hospitals thus making medical accessibility and costs far worse. We don’t realize that we need vegetables too.
We need to understand our history and civics and why we have the rights AND RESPONSIBILITIES as citizens that we do. If the Republicans cannot adequately explain these facts, and it will be exceptionally tough to do so in this 15-second sound-bite and bumper sticker world where we now live, then the GOP will indeed continue to shrink. The children among us will continue to vote for cake and the ramifications of a nation of cake-fed constituents is horrible to contemplate. After all, somebody has to actually make that cake too.
In addition to preparing healthy and enriching dishes here, T. Paine also serves wonderful conservative treats at his own site.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
Voters Waiting Up To 7 Hours to Cast Ballots - This is no accident:
From The Atlantic Monthly:
No matter who wins the presidential race, no matter which party controls Congress, can we at least agree as reasonable adults that when it comes to voting itself the election of 2012 is a national disgrace?
- More -