Podcast Scheduled Next week
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. 1032 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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Who Demanded the Investigation into Associated Press? - Click for Podcast
It was the smoking gun. It was the email that proved White House interference. Talking points had been erased, others changed, still others added. References to terrorism were removed. All was done to give the appearance that Obama was actually Big Bad Obama, and had eliminated terrorism from the face of the earth.
It proved that President Obama was worse than Richard Nixon, that he, or Hillary Clinton, had personally interfered with security in Benghazi. It proved that President Obama has orchestrated misinformation after the Benghazi attacks in order to enhance his chances of getting reelected.
This week, the White House released an avalanche of messages. Among the messages was the smoking gun:
Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.
- Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser
September 14, 2012
Huh? That's the smoking gun? That's it?
Several facts quickly became clear, from the memos and from other contemporaneous evidence.
The removal of references to terrorism had been done in the very first draft. This was before any of the talking points was seen by anyone in the White House.
It was done at the insistence of the CIA. CIA attorneys expressed the concern that ongoing investigations would be influenced, or even compromised, by premature release of unverified information. Identification of the murderers was part of the information CIA counsel did not want released because of concerns about security and an ongoing investigation.
There was no White House coverup.
The smoking gun memo that was widely quoted as showing heavy handed White House interference getting the truth out, the memo that proved a coverup, the memo that demonstrated that the White House had acted to keep information about terrorism away from the public, that memo, showed nothing of the kind.
In fact, the main concern in that memo was that truthful information be gotten out as quickly as possible, short of damaging the investigation or US security. That was the only White House conspiracy exposed by the famous smoking gun memo.
Lies were told about the memos.
Before the smoking gun memo was released to the public, it is known to have been shown to Republican staffers. As the contents became public, reporters discovered they had been lied to. Some reporters did something extraordinary. They revealed, in a sort of general way, who the sources were. These would be the sources who had lied to them, leading them down the primrose path to falsehood. Reporters didn't name names, but they did confirm that the sources were staff members of Republican Congressional Representatives.
The smoking gun memo was not the only one from which Republicans invented quotes which they channeled to reporters.
The shockingly shocking shock of the entire shocking series of shocking incidents was that Republicans lied to reporters, and reporters believed them.
We now know who vetoed military requests to send more troops to protect facilities in Benghazi.
It was US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He turned down three requests by Army General Carter Ham that more security be placed in Benghazi: once by cable, once by telephone, once in person. That the same Christopher Stevens who was killed in Benghazi. It seems reasonable that Ambassador Stevens simply felt that foreign service, if done effectively, is inherently dangerous. It is possible he did not want more barriers between himself and the people of Libya.
In any case, some Republicans are now admitting they have known for weeks about Ambassador Stevens decision about security.
So we know there is no administration scandal.
There was no White House attempt to remove information about the identity of the attackers.
There was no negligence on the part of the administration in Benghazi security. A brave Ambassador took a calculated risk that he seemed to regard as part of the job.
The only interference shown in the memo that was touted as a smoking gun was a desire to get as much accurate information to the public as possible.
That is not to say there was no scandal. There was.
The memos had been shown to Republicans long before they were released to the press.
- Republicans told lies to reporters, lies which are now documented as falsehoods, to create the impression that President Obama was leading a coverup. In backroom sessions, they were feeding to reporters fictitious quotes from a specific memo to prove what they knew was not true.
There's your Benghazi scandal.
My schedule sometimes gets especially intense. It's hard to get to Praise Band practice at the church on an evening during the week. So the Music Director meets with me early every other Sunday morning to practice individually. Early means before choir members arrive for last rehearsal for first service, the traditional service. That means I end up with a couple of hours before contemporary service starts.
I was sorting through my music, filing away the previous week and penciling through the new songs for later that morning. One of my favorite people walked by. She noticed my look of curiosity and told me why she wasn't rehearsing. She rasped out that she was recovering from losing her voice to a slight cold.
"You know," I said, "I told you not to gargle with peanut butter, but you wouldn't listen to me." She laughed hoarsely. She always laughs at my lame jokes. I love that in a friend. She half whispered a rejoinder and I forgot it for a day or so.
My friend would not normally be among the stirring memories provoked by Lou Dobbs. Shirley Sherrod would not be among them either.
Ms. Sherrod, through sheer perseverance and hard work had become a force within the United States Department of Agriculture, fighting discrimination, fighting predatory banking practices aimed at small farmers. She was not well known, except to the people she helped. But she was prominent enough to be invited to share her story with members of a rural chapter of the NAACP.
She told them of her background, including losing her father and a cousin to racial violence. Lynchings were common then and the murders were considered unremarkable. So was the cross burned on her front lawn. The murders and the turmoil left bitter scars in the mind of the teenaged Shirley. She went on to excel in school, then college, and eventually joined the Agriculture Department, with a mission to confront and overcome racial discrimination.
She told her audience of meeting a white couple who needed help with unfair banking practices. They were about to lose their farm. At first, she had trouble with her own emotions toward whites. She referred them to a lawyer. She followed up and discovered the lawyer was handling their problems with a lethargy that angered her. She got involved. The more she discovered, the angrier she got on their behalf. She confronted banking officials and complacent government employees.
You see Shirley Sherrod on television or video and you can imagine having her go nose to nose with some privileged executive not used to any challenge.
In the end, she and they were able to save their farm. As important to Ms. Sherrod, helping them had helped her overcome her own bitter resentments. She felt they, unknowingly, had helped in her own healing.
The audience was enthusiastic in their applause. Her testimony was inspiring, spiritual in scope. It was bitterness turned to empathy, pain turned to healing, justice in the arc of the moral universe.
A video of her moving story was obtained by some conservative and edited down. What was left after the cutting was then rearranged to make it appear that she was boasting to an appreciative audience about being able to discriminate against a white couple. And it falsely showed local NAACP members happily clapping for hatred against whites.
The edited video was aired on a conservative site. It was broadcast on Fox News. Fox personalities demanded prompt action. They came just short of claiming the hatred documented by video was part of an Obama agenda.
Leaders of the national NAACP condemned the speaker, Shirley Sherrod, for the expression of racial hostility, for misusing her position to discriminate against a white couple, for even boasting about getting back at whites. The Secretary of Agriculture had an aide contact Ms. Sherrod with a demand for immediate resignation. It was clear the request had come at the insistence of the Obama White House.
As it happened, a member of the audience had recorded the entire presentation. The unaltered, which is to say genuine, video began airing. The white farm couple appeared on television, explaining their loyalty and gratitude toward their friend Shirley for working hard with them, guiding them, encouraging them, standing up for them, sharing in their eventual triumph, as she helped them save their farm.
Some of the same critics who had broadcast the altered video, demanding her resignation, now attacked the Obama administration for not getting the facts before acting.
Get the facts before you act.
An embarrassed administration asked her to come back. She refused, but did agree to work with the Department as a consultant.
I didn't think about this heroic lady immediately as the IRS scandal hit last week. I didn't get the connection, not at first.
There is a 501(c) tax category for civic groups that allows donors to claim a tax deduction, even if the groups engage in political activity. The only requirement is that politics can't be the primary activity of a group. Congress has never provided a clear idea what "primary" actually means in this part of tax law.
Some employees - the number may be a small as two, reports vary - gave an awfully hard time to conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status. They asked similar questions of a few liberal groups, but their main targets seemed to be Tea Party type associations. It was clearly unfair. Pretty much everyone was outraged, and they should have been.
This is part of what President Obama said:
If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they're applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.
And you should feel that way regardless of party. I don't care whether you're a Democrat, independent or a Republican. At some point, there are going to be Republican administrations. At some point, there are going to be Democratic ones. Either way, you don't want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate. So this is something that I think people are properly concerned about.
- President Barack Obama, May 13, 2013
I saw President's statement later that evening during a newscast. He looked as if he was barely containing an inner fury at what had been done.
It was Lou Dobbs that brought Shirley Sherrod to mind. He appeared on Fox News and said this:
What is outrageous is that the president of the United States this morning stands before the American people and lies through his teeth. That is what is outrageous.
- Lou Dobbs, May 13, 2013
The "lies through his teeth" part was this from President Obama. If, in fact, personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups...
Lou Dobbs and his host on Fox News were objecting to the word "if". "If" was the lie. Dobbs went on to elaborate:
The president must have forgotten that the Internal Revenue Service took the extraordinary step last week and admitted doing these things and apologized for doing these things — and then this president…says that if they are found to have done these things, we will have to hold them accountable, as if that would not be his first and immediate and urgent action to take. This is a president who has lost his way.
- Lou Dobbs, May 13, 2013
I can see how a President who wants to check before acting, even if someone else in government tells everyone what happened, how that would enrage partisans.
So naturally, I thought of the shoot-from-the-lip response from the Secretary of Agriculture that had been provoked by conservative shouts. Shirley Sherrod had come out okay because of the loyalty of a farm couple she had fought for, and because of a private video that someone was lucky enough to have recorded. It could have gone the other way.
Importance is different than urgency. On the IRS abuse of not-primarily-political conservatives, I get the importance. Perhaps I am missing the urgency. A few days of fact-checking that could avoid a Shirley Sherrod incident seems worthwhile to me. I understand that impulse control can be costly to a public personality who might miss a television appearance. A day of investigation and reflection before exacting retribution might be a virtue in a President.
Lou Dobbs started out as a bank employee, then a low-level government clerk. Then he discovered that he could speak before the cameras as a television reporter in Texas. I remember him from a little over 30 years ago when he was a kind of boring, but credible, financial narrator on CNN.
That was decades before he became an activist for immigration restrictions and a birther, promoting the theory that President Obama was born in Kenya.
This week, he speaks for those who are impatient with President Obama. The President has directed that the acting director of the IRS be asked to resign. But he did not do that on the strength of news reports or even after a statement to the press by an IRS supervisor. That gave Lou Dobbs and a few others some heartburn.
Thinking about Mr. Dobbs led me to recall my little gargling with peanut butter joke before worship, and the hoarse sort of courtesy laugh from my friend. "But you wouldn't listen to me," I said. She rasped back, "Well I did switch from crunchy." I'm easily encouraged, always willing to use a little joke until it's beat into the ground.
You know, I told Lou Dobbs to wash his mouth out with bleach, but he wouldn't listen. Now he's on television saying stuff that's just plain ... well ... let's say it isn't chicken salad.
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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(by) For Your Consideration
Critics can be brutal. Michael Deacon is clever and funny.
From London's The Telegraph:
The snobs and critics will have a field day with the US author’s latest work – but I’m not joining in - -
Renowned author Dan Brown woke up in his luxurious four-poster bed in his expensive $10 million house – and immediately he felt angry. Most people would have thought that the 48-year-old man had no reason to be angry. After all, the famous writer had a new book coming out. But that was the problem.
- More -
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.
It can be hard to judge public figures decades or centuries after the fact. Revisionists tell us Lincoln was a racist. Most abolitionists then were as well. FDR is recorded expressing antisemitic opinions. Careers were damaged or destroyed after the making of Gentlemen's Agreement.
Many of us needn't go to history books. We can simply consult our own memories to know what it is like to be on the wrong side of the moral arc.
William F. Buckley pointedly described the political positioning of a lisping Bobby Kennedy as Lyndon Johnson's war policy in Vietnam lost popular support.
At the eye of the hurricane, taking advantage of the centrifugal quiet of his station, is Bobby, whose way is swept clean by the ravaging winds of his associates. He must of course occasionally lisp into the act
- William F. Buckley, Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1966
Gore Vidal, ever ready to bite at Buckley's kneecaps, and fresh from his televised "pro crypto Nazi" encounter, does mention the sly homophobic reference in order to savage his old enemy.
Now the late Senator's voice was known to us all and he did not lisp. Why say that he did? Because the word "lisp" suggests softness, weakness, and, above all, effeminacy. The mad cuckoo behind the little door could not resist casting a shadow upon the virility of his enemy, just as the cuckoo astonishingly characterized those who demonstrated against the war in New York, October 1965, as "epicene" and "mincing" slobs, thus slyly assigning to sodom's banner such unlikely recruits as I. F. Stone, Ossie Davis, and Father Philip Berrigan. Charity forbids me mentioning what he has written or said of many others; it is all, however, in the record, as his great idol Joe McCarthy used to say.
- Gore Vidal, Esquire magazine, September 1969
It was a different world. Those of us alive in those days, and old enough at the time to absorb prevailing attitudes, may know how terrible those attitudes were, and how unremarkable they seemed to us. Homophobia was not considered a prejudice.
Times change, although not without struggle and sacrifice. At first, heroes are few and unrecognized. Movements grow, sometimes slowly. As historical developments, expansions of acceptance, gay rights to a life like any other in America have accelerated beyond the expectations of most.
Not everyone gets the memo at the same time.
At a conference in California, History Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard educated a conservative audience on the basic flaw in standard Keynesian economics. It seems John Maynard Keynes was gay. According to reports, the attendees were stunned. A few later said they were offended.
Ferguson was ostensibly making a point beyond sexual orientation. Future generations would be affected by deficits. Ferguson had no children, hence no biological concerns with the ultimate effect of his economic models.
It was a dumb point made with an offensive stereotype. Kathleen Geier brings us context at Washington Monthly. She quotes economist John Aziz: "There’s wrong, there’s very wrong and then there’s Niall Ferguson."
To his credit, Ferguson apologized two days after his remarks went public. As apologies go, it was classy. No to-anyone-who-might-be-offended claptrap. He begins with this:
During a recent question-and-answer session at a conference in California, I made comments about John Maynard Keynes that were as stupid as they were insensitive.
- Niall Ferguson, May 4, 2013
The rest expands on that theme.
There is one sentence that stands out. "My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation." Articles, books, and remarks over the years seem to indicate otherwise.
Ferguson's stray comments don't focus entirely on economists from 80 years ago. He compared President Obama to Felix the Cat of cartoon fame. The joke might not have been apparent until Ferguson explained it:
President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920's, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US...
- Niall Ferguson, August 10, 2009, writing for the Financial Times.
So Felix was black and very, very lucky. Get it? Felix the Cat? Black and lucky?
Reactions to the apology vary.
I kind of like the idea of redemption. We all need it. We tend to overdo it when we apply our own rules of life to others. It does seem to me appropriate to judge whom and what we choose to consider as credible. I am inclined to keep Niall Ferguson's lapses in mind when I encounter other samples of his wisdom.
I try to apply the lesson from my redeemer of not throwing the first stone, most emphatically not being without sin myself. I also wonder if, in his wonderful apology, Professor Ferguson might join us in remembering that Jesus spoke to the woman he had just rescued from stones of people like me.
He gave to her a wonderfully impossible instruction, one beyond our grasp.
Just a suggestion. The good professor might consider carefully the next time he thinks about such stereotypes. It might go some distance toward meeting that rule:
Go and sin no more.
Some of the rest of us can continue working to accept God's forgiveness for the way we, in those days, unthinkingly participated in the same attitudes a Harvard professor recently expressed in California.
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