Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
In February, President Obama launched an initiative for black young men. As he announced a $200 million, five-year initiative, "My Brother's Keeper," he declared:
I didn't have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.
He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a "moral issue for our country" as he presented troubling statistics: black boys are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim. "These statistics should break our hearts," he said, "and they should compel us to act."
The president challenged black men to do better themselves, and said they must not make excuses for their failures or blame society for the poor decisions they have already made:
You will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society's lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future. It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say if the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. Nothing will be given to you.
In a show of support, leaders from more than a dozen nonprofit foundations and executives from some of the nation's largest companies joined the president, along with Magic Johnson, the retired basketball superstar, and Gen. Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State.
The initiative features $200 million worth of commitments by organizations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies to invest in programs that help young black and Hispanic men.
Some black critics have argued that the problems faced by young African Americans are primarily a result of racism in American society. Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke, for example, said the president's initiative did not focus enough on the more systemic forms of racism in America. He said:
These young men weren't killed because of structural situations that didn't give them opportunities. It's other kinds of racism that those boys were dealing with. The initiative is not addressing those things.
No problem in society can be properly addressed if it is misdiagnosed. To blame "racism" for the problems of young black men addressed by President Obama is to miss the point of what is, in fact, taking place in contemporary American society. This is not to say that no racism exists - that it has been completely eliminated from our society. Sadly, wherever men and women of diverse backgrounds live together, tensions are often to be found. It is to say, however, that the real dilemma is more complex.
The reality is, as the respected black economist Walter Williams points out:
. . . that black Americans as a group have made some of the largest gains over some of the highest hurdles in the shortest time of any group in history. If black Americans were a nation, they would be the sixteenth richest on earth. Some of the richest, and most famous, people in the world are black Americans. Colin Powell led the mightiest army in human history. In 1865 neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed this kind of progress was possible in a little over a century, if ever. As such it speaks to the intestinal fortitude of a people and, just as important, to the greatness of the nation where such gains were possible - gains that would have been impossible anywhere except in the United States.
Yet, Williams notes:
For many blacks, these gains are elusive - perhaps for 30 percent of our community. It does the poor no favors to blame their problems on racism - which has been diminishing as the pathologies got worse. In 1940, the black illegitimacy rate was around 14 percent. Now, it's 75 percent. In 1870, right after slavery, 70 to 80 percent of black families were intact. Now, only 30 percent of black kids live in two-parent families. Some 51 percent of homicide victims are black, as are 95 percent of their killers. You can't blame this on white people. The rotten schools black kids attend are mostly in cities where black adults are in control and spending a lot of taxpayers' money on those schools.
Census statistics indicate that nearly 70 percent of black children have single mothers, and estimates are that an even larger percentage will grow up without a father in the home. As comedian Bill Cosby said during a visit to Milwaukee, a city with a high murder rate, black children are hurt by the absence of parents and eagerly follow any example of leadership - from gangs to older friends to parents who offer bad examples. So they get a gun, and then, as Cosby described it
. . . you're asking for trouble . . . you have guns in the hands of people who are already angry because they've been abandoned by a father or mother, or they have lives with very low self-esteem, the anger level is so high.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times in June 2004, Cosby asked:
What can the future hold for us with a 50-percent high school dropout rate in many urban areas and with a 60-percent illiteracy rate among inmates and a prison population that is 45 percent black?
His goal in speaking out at the time of the commemoration of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, said Cosby, was to "ignite righteous indignation" as a basis for action against this scourge. He was embraced by Washington, D.C.'s police chief Charles Ramsay (now police chief of Philadelphia). Ramsay, who is black, declared:
I'm with you 100 percent. Behavior has to change. Responsibility for your own behavior has to change. We have people who just let TV and video games and music raise their kids and instill values . . . and then we wonder why we have a problem.
Within the black community more and more respected voices are speaking out against those who tend to blame the problems we face upon "white racism." In his book Enough, the journalist and commentator Juan Williams laments that in the face of mounting crime rates:
. . . civil rights and black church leaders pointed a finger at white cops, prosecutors, judges, and jailers as the source of the black crime problem. They said the increase in incarcerated black people was largely the result of an unfair increase in sentences for drug possession and drug dealing as part of the late-1970s and early-1980s "war on drugs.". . . Instead of speaking out against gangs, drug dealers, and pimps - and the clothes and hip-hop music that celebrated these outlaws as black heroes - left-wing intellectuals preached against the sins of the white racist American establishment.
Williams laments that:
Never a word was spoken about the need for black Americans to take up their own war on drugs and on crime as a matter of personal responsibility. And no one testified that crime by black hands undercut the advances in racial justice and the opportunities opened up by the great civil rights movement. . . . By 2004 federal data showed that black Americans - 13 percent of the population - accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent of murders. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were their fellow black people. . . . Oddly, the increase in the black prison population begins around the time of the 1954 Brown decision. At the start of the 1950s, 65 percent of all state and federal prisoners were white and 35 percent were black. At mid-century, poverty, bad housing, racist cops, legal discrimination, and high unemployment all were cited as the reasons that the percentage of black people in prison was more than triple the percentage of black people in the nation. By the end of the century the percentage of white prisoners had declined to 35 percent, while the black inmate population approached 50 percent. Something terrible had happened.
If the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative seeks to examine the real dynamics at work in the problems faced by young people in minority communities, all of us will be the beneficiaries. If it simply recites the clichs of the past, it will not move us forward. All Americans have an interest in promoting the upward mobility of all our citizens. But a proper diagnosis of the problems we face is essential if we are to succeed.
The subject on everyone's lips at the present time seems to be growing income inequality and a decline in upward mobility. President Obama appears ready to make this question central to the remainder of his term.
There are, of course, many examples of excess at the top. JPMorgan Chase, after a year immersed in scandal, has decided to award its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, $20 million in compensation for 2013. This amount is 74 percent higher than the $11.5 million he earned in 2012. Under his leadership, JPMorgan suffered a series of major legal setbacks, including a record $13 billion settlement with the Justice Department. JPMorgan, under Dimon's leadership, paid this amount to resolve allegations that the bank knowingly sold faulty mortgage securities that contributed to the nation's financial crisis. Other senior executives at the bank got lush compensation packages as well.
Wall Street, which played fast and loose with the nation's economy, was bailed out by the U.S. Government. American taxpayers were called upon to pay the bills for financial institutions that failed. This is hardly free enterprise at work. What would Adam Smith - or Milton Friedman - think of the concept of "too big to fail?" They might have a name for it, but it wouldn't be free-market capitalism. The excessive salaries earned by those who presided over failed institutions which taxpayers rescued is certainly a legitimate cause for concern.
Still, wretched excess by a few at the top has little to do with our larger economic problems. It is important that we not misunderstand the real challenges we face.
While many politicians argue that upward mobility in our society has declined, the evidence seems to paint a different picture. According to a large new academic study, the odds of moving up the economic ladder have not changed appreciably in the past 20 years.
Both President Obama and Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan have recently argued that the odds of climbing the income ladder are lower today than in the past. Yet, a new study, based on tens of millions of tax records, finds that the mobility rate has held largely steady in recent decades.
Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard and one of the authors, suggests that any advances in opportunity provided by expanded social programs have been offset by other changes in economic conditions. Increased trade and advanced technology, he points out, have closed off some traditional sources of middle-income jobs.
The study notes that "it is not true that mobility itself is getting lower," said Lawrence E. Katz, a Harvard economist and mobility scholar who was not one of the study's authors, but has reviewed the findings:
What's really changed is the consequences of it. Because there's so much inequality, people born near the bottom tend to stay near the bottom, and that's much more consequential than it was 50 years ago.
Incorporating results from a previous study dating back to the 1950s, the authors concluded that that "measures of social mobility have remained remarkably stable over the second half of the 20th century in the U.S."
A leading voice on mobility issues, Manhattan Institute economist Scott Winship, said that he found a similar trend in mobility - no change for children born in the 1980s compared with those born in the 1940s - using a different set of data.
"The facts themselves are pretty unassailable," said M.I.T. economist David Autor. For example, the study found that about 8 percent of children born in the 1980s who grew up in families in the bottom fifth of income distribution managed to reach the top fifth for their age group today. The rate was nearly identical for children born a decade earlier. Among children born into the middle fifth of the income distribution, about 20 percent climbed into the top fifth as adults, also largely unchanged over the last decade.
One factor that few have discussed is how the decline of the American family has had an impact on economic mobility. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of single-parent families and out-of-wedlock births that have harmed the upward mobility of working-class families.
Some liberals seem to have a vested interest in misunderstanding the real problems we face - as do some conservatives and their allegiance to large business interests. New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio speaks of New York as being composed of "two cities," one rich and one poor. One of the speakers at his inauguration called it "a plantation." Time columnist Joe Klein, hardly a conservative, calls this "myopic inaccuracy."
In Klein's view:
New York contains multitudes. It is the very opposite of a plantation. For the past 25 years especially, it has been a fierce incubator of opportunity for a kaleidoscope of new immigrant groups who have come and worked hard and succeeded. Studies show that the American Dream of upward mobility is more alive in New York than in much of the rest of the country - a fact that its new mayor should not only acknowledge but also crow about.
Another respected columnist, also not a conservative, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, declares that:
Conservatives are, I think, correct to highlight family stability as a fundamental issue that goes to the welfare of children as much as food stamps or anything else. Children raised by a single parent are more than three times as likely to live in poverty as those raised by two parents, according to census data. After Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the issue in 1965 in the context of black families, he was condemned in liberal circles as intolerant, if not a racist. Over time, though, there has been a growing appreciation that he was ahead of his time, and as the Urban Institute notes, the percentage of white babies born to unwed mothers is now the same as it was for black babies when he sounded his alarm.
Almost 36 percent of births in recent years in the U.S. were to unmarried women, according to census data. The birthrate for unmarried women is up 80 percent since 1980. Census data also shows that a majority of high school dropouts having babies are unmarried; only 9 percent of college graduates are. Two-thirds of black women giving birth are unmarried; just over a quarter of white women are.
How to improve marriage rates is something we don't seem to know how to do. Perhaps there is a way to improve parenting skills. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution argues that if we could teach the weakest parents to behave like average parents - by reading more to their children, speaking more, using consistent, encouraging discipline - then millions of children might have more secure attachments, more structure, and a better chance at upwardly mobile careers.
Robert Putnam of Harvard believes that when we design early education programs, they need to be "wrap-around" - to have formal and informal programs that bring parents in and instill communal skills. With teenagers, more guidance counselors are needed to help them understand how to advance and to respond when their needs are not being met. Putnam emphasizes skills for toddlers and teenagers. Human capital development is, in his view, what is really necessary to improve mobility and to help those who are born with disadvantages to advance.
There is no doubt that the twin problems of income disparity and the stagnation of the middle class must be addressed. But the many causes - technological advances, free trade with countries such as China, whose factories do not have to meet our environmental and other standards, and the decline of the American family - and of our educational system - must be understood as ingredients in the problems we face. Too much of our political rhetoric, unfortunately, tends to downplay the complex factors at work in order to come up with simple "solutions," which are unlikely to have positive results since they seem to purposely misunderstand the real and complex, dynamics at work.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
It was recently announced that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would join Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm - although Mr. Geithner had no experience whatever in the private equity field.
Writing in The New Republic, Noam Scheiber noted that
It's hard to believe that Geithner, with no investment or private sector experience, would be worth the millions he will surely earn each year if he didn't also turn heads at the highest levels of government.
The financial industry is one of the largest lobbying groups in Washington. It has always pushed for fewer controls, and has largely succeeded. Two important changes were the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, which ended the separation between commercial and investment banking, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which legally banned the Securities and Exchange Commission from regulating over-the-counter derivatives. The main lobbyist for the 1999 law, Sanford Weill, then head of Citigroup, now admits that, "I don't think it's right anymore." Bill Clinton now says that he regrets not having tried to regulate derivatives.
These pieces of legislation, we now know, led to our financial crisis - and the eventual bailing out by taxpayers of failed banks and financial institutions. Eighteen months before the financial collapse, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a report called "Sustaining New York's and the U.S.' Global Financial Services Leadership," which warned that if Wall Street were re-regulated, the financial industry would move to London.
It is interesting to see how politically connected banks received larger bailout loans from the federal government during the 2008 financial crisis than banks that spent less on lobbying and campaign contributions. This is the conclusion of a new analysis by Professor Benjamin Blau of Utah State University. His findings were based on data from the Federal Reserve Board and published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Blau noted that it was "unlikely" that the Fed intended "to provide political favors to banks with the most political connections." But the pattern was clear. Banks that received bailout loans spent 72 times more on lobbying in the decade before the meltdown than banks that got no loans. Blau also found that 15 percent of the banks that received loans employed politically connected individuals. Only 1.5 percent of banks with politically connected employees got no loans.
In the case of Timothy Geithner, states Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a Wall Street watchdog group:
Geithner's spin through the revolving door to cash in on his "public service" will enrich himself, further erode public confidence in government, and give the finance industry more access and influence at the highest levels of government worldwide.
Josh Green of Bloomberg Businessweek writes that:
For all the criticism directed his way, Geithner was the exceedingly rare example of the idea that you can be a talented, high-level regulator and public servant and exist entirely apart from Wall Street financial interests. That won't be true any longer.
Washington, of course, is awash with lobbyists of all kinds - spending literally billions of dollars to get government to do their bidding. Companies spent about $3.5 billion annually on lobbying at the end of the last decade, a nearly 90 percent increase from 1999 after adjusting for inflation, according to political scientist Lee Drutman in his forthcoming book, The Business of America Is Lobbying.
"A growing number of companies," says Drutman, "became fully convinced that having a large-scale Washington presence was a good strategic decision."
According to recent research, lobbying pays off in a major way. Research shows that the more a company spends on influence, the lower its effective tax rate and the higher its stock returns, compared with competitors. A company called Strategas has developed an index to follow the stock performance of the 50 companies that lobbied the most last year. That index outperformed the rest of the market by 30 percent.
Lobbying, lawyers, and government contractors have fueled the extraordinary prosperity of the Washington area, while the economy in the rest of the country has stagnated. During the past decade, the Washington region - including suburban Maryland and Virginia - added 21,000 households in the nation's top 1 percent. No other metro area came close.
The Washington Post reports that:
The signs of the new Washington are everywhere - from the Tiffany & Co. store that Fairfax County development officials boast is the most profitable in the country to the new Tesla dealership in Tyson's Corner. Every morning on the Beltway, contractors, lobbyists and some of the country's highest-paid lawyers sit in the nation's worst traffic. Sports talk radio crackles . . . with the latest ads from Deltek, a firm that advises companies on "capture strategies" for winning government contracts.
The revolving door keeps turning - and government keeps growing and keeps serving the interests of those who so generously finance the campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans so that no matter which party is in power, the special interests will have friends to call upon. Wall Street's investment in politicians has certainly paid handsome dividends, as the bank bailout has made clear to all. It is, as a result, not too difficult to understand why a private equity firm would hire a former Treasury Secretary with no experience in the field. It is business as usual - as business is now conducted.
Liberals across the country are looking to Bill de Blasio, the newly elected mayor of New York City, to transform the city's government into a closely watched laboratory for populist theories of government that have never before been enacted on such a large scale.
Mr. de Blasio entered politics as an aide to former Mayor David Dinkins and was a firsthand witness to the failed policies of that left-leaning administration. The waves of crime and racial tension that plagued the Dinkins administration put Democrats in the political wilderness for 20 years. The successful tenures of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg ushered in an era of business-minded executives who made the city safe, clean, and prosperous.
Under Mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg, the 20-year drop in crime is the sharpest in the nation. The liberal writer Jack Newfield once wrote that if the murders in New York go below 600 a year, there should be a ticker-tape parade for the Police Department. Last year, murders in New York fell below 340, in a city of 8 million. By contrast, Newark, with a population of 277,000 ended 2013 with more than 100 murders.
During Mayor de Blasio's inauguration on January 1, speaker after speaker saw fit to denounce outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was sitting only feet away. It started with the invocation, at which the Rev. Fred Lucas, senior pastor at the Brooklyn Community Church, called New York City a "plantation." He and other speakers freely used other slavery and racially-charged metaphors in calling for a Reconstruction and an Emancipation Proclamation. "End the civil wars and usher in a new Reconstruction era," Lucas said.
First to speak was the singer Harry Belafonte, who was seriously in error about history. He declared that, "New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world." That is clearly the opposite of the truth.
"New York is one of the first states to significantly reduce its entire correctional population," according to a 2013 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
It reduced the number of people in prison and jail, and on probation and parole. This drop was driven exclusively by declines in New York City's correctional population.
The title of the report is "How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration: A Model for Change?" The study found that, "New York City sending fewer people into the justice system reduced mass incarceration in the entire of state."
Mr. de Blasio proclaims himself a "progressive" and declares his commitment to "equal opportunity." Yet, as The Washington Post pointed out editorially, "Achieving this goal is not just a matter of taxing and spending but also of institutional reform - especially in education."
Here, Mayor Bloomberg earned high marks from most New Yorkers. He challenged teachers' unions and expanded school choice and accountability. He closed large neighborhood schools that were performing poorly and replaced them with hundreds of smaller schools and public charter schools. When Bloomberg became mayor in 2001, fewer than half of New York City's high school students graduated in four years. That figure is now 61 percent, even though standards are more difficult. Fourth grade reading and math scores have risen. Sadly, the new mayor seems to side with those who would bring the Bloomberg reforms to an end.
What is de Blasio thinking when he promises to limit charter schools' access to publicly owned buildings and promises a moratorium on closing low-performing schools? He also wants to end Bloomberg's A-F report cards for schools. His choice for schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, is a prominent critic of the Bloomberg reforms.
The tone set at De Blasio's inauguration was even criticized editorially by one of his strongest supporters, The New York Times. The paper lamented "backward-looking speeches both graceless and smug" and pointed, in particular, to the new public advocate:
Worst among them, but hardly alone, was the new public advocate, Letitia James, who used her moment for her own head-on attack on the 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In doing so, she made a prop of a 12-year-old girl named Dasani, who had to hold the Bible and Ms. James's hand as Ms. James called for a government "that cares more about a child going hungry than a new tax credit for a luxury development."
Dasani was profiled in a series of articles in The Times illustrating the plight of homeless families. Editorially, The Times declared:
Ms. James turned her into Exhibit A of an Inauguration Day prosecution: The People vs. Mayor Bloomberg. So did the pastor whose invocation likened New York to a "plantation," and Harry Belafonte who strangely laid the problem of America's crowded prisons at the feet of the former mayor, an utterly bogus claim, while saying Mr. Bloomberg shared responsibility for the nation's "deeply Dickensian justice system." . . . Mr. Bloomberg had his mistakes and failures, but he was not a cartoon Gilded Age villain. He deserved better than pointless and tacky harangues from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio's campaign theme.
The only gracious voice on the scene was that of former President Bill Clinton, who administered the oath of office. Clinton thanked Bloomberg, who took over the city in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and had to deal with the recession that hit the country in 2008, for leaving New York stronger than he found it. When he followed, de Blasio also gave a nod to the former mayor, but by then the negative and hostile tone had been set.
Why did Bill Clinton administer the oaths of office to New York's mayor and bring Hillary with him? De Blasio has, it seems, become a beacon to those in the Democratic Party's progressive wing, who have often been disappointed by President Obama. Other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the party's left wing sees few political leaders willing to promote their agenda. With the Clintons on hand, the de Blasio inauguration has added significance and seems to be an effort to position a potential Clinton presidential race further to the left.
Politico reported that de Blasio will buttress the coming presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. It noted de Blasio's ties to the Clintons and argued that the new mayor will shore up her liberal credibility. "As church people say, he can 'witness' for them," says Democratic strategist and former adviser to Bill Clinton, James Carville. "He can talk about her, how she stands up for people. It could be very, very helpful."
Under Michael Bloomberg, New York City thrived. It became safe and prosperous. He turned the $6 billion deficit he found upon taking office into a $3 billion surplus. The problems of inequality upon which de Blasio based much of his campaign are real, but are not unique to New York, nor were they the result of city policies. Statistics show even greater inequality in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. (where Michael Bloomberg never served as mayor). New York City has not had a liberal Democratic mayor for 20 years. When he served in the Dinkins administration, de Blasio saw a different, dangerous, degraded city. He will be of little use to Hillary Clinton or anyone else if he turns his back on 20 years of real progress in New York. Let's hope he will abandon the divisive rhetoric of his campaign and continue to move the city forward as his most recent predecessors have done.
Government's performance in recent days has been dismal. This is hardly new. One of the reasons for President Obama's election, after all, was dismay with President George W. Bush's eight years in office. During that period we went to war in Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist, taxpayers bailed out failing banks on Wall Street, Medicare was expanded with an unfunded drug benefit, and government deficits reached all-time highs. Things, we were told, couldn't get worse.
Somehow, the current administration seems to be doing its best to show that things can continue on a dangerous downhill spiral. The Affordable Care Act, hailed as President Obama's landmark achievement, is in a shambles. Not only does its website not work, but promises made by the president that Americans would be able to keep their policies, have been shown to be untrue.
In mid-November, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Obama with the lowest approval rating of his presidency. Only 39 percent approved of his performance. Fifty four percent disapproved. These numbers are similar to those of a Pew survey that showed the president's job approval at 41 percent with 53 percent disapproving.
Public disillusionment with government goes far beyond healthcare. We now know that the surveillance program of the National Security Agency appears to be out of control. Even liberal defenders of the administration find it difficult not to express their criticism. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, for example, wrote of
. . . the NSA's apparent goal of knowing everything. The agency collects information as massively and indiscriminately as possible on the theory that if you assemble a database of all the world's communications, the few you seek - those involving terrorists - will be in there somewhere. This is . . . a massive invasion of privacy. . . . While NSA analysts were sifting billions of phone records, they were unaware that one of their own contract analysts, some guy named Snowden, was about to spill all the precious beans.
It seems that almost every day we learn of some government program that is not working - or has gone awry. In mid-November - to cite one recent report - a federal report concluded that there is no evidence that airport checkpoint personnel have any basis for judgment when they scan a line for suspicious passengers. In a report to a House subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office says there is no evidence it's effective for Transportation Security Administration officials to scan crowds for signs someone might be a terrorist. The GAO report recommends that Congress stop funding for the program - which has cost $878 million thus far.
In recent years, many Americans have forgotten the Founding Fathers' view that power is a corrupting force. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison declared:
It may be a reflection of human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
The deliberations of those who created the American Republic are instructive. Among the works carefully studied by the founders was Polybius' historical analysis of Roman character and the Roman Constitution, written about the middle of the 2nd century B.C. That system incorporated both checks and balances upon political power and provided for separation of political functions. The Roman Constitution, said Polybius, was not formed upon abstractions but developed out of the circumstances of the time of troubles in which the people of Rome found themselves.
This was the "mixed government" praised by Aristotle, but which Aristotle had thought almost impossible to maintain on a grand scale. The Roman experience, writes Russell Kirk in The Roots of American Order, was
. . . mentioned repeatedly in the constitutional debates in Philadelphia. The consequences of Roman centralization had their part in discouraging schemes for a central, rather than a federal government in America - quite as the Greek disunity had a part in the arguments against a mere loose confederation. . . . And in the 18th century climate of rationalism, American knowledge of the effects of Rome's religious and ethical decline upon the social order did something to secure American attachment to the free exercise of religion. . . . Rome's example of decadence was a cautionary lesson. . . . But also Rome's legacy of law was part of the American inheritance.
A more direct influence upon the Founders was the history of England and, in turn, their own history of self-government in the colonies. The Common Law, which evolved over centuries, was, Kirk points out:
. . . the foundation of order . . . also it was the foundation of freedom. The high claim of the commentators on the common law was this: no man, not even the king, was above or beyond the law.
Activist government - involved in every aspect of people's lives - was the opposite of what the Founding Fathers had in mind. At the beginning of his Administration, Thomas Jefferson wrote a friend that:
. . . the path we have to pursue is so quiet that we have nothing scarcely to propose to our Legislature. A noiseless course, not meddling with the affairs of others, unattractive of notice, is a mark that society is going on in happiness.
In recent years, whether those in power were Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, the power of government has increased, as has the percentage of the gross national product disposed of by the state. The deficit has skyrocketed. Those out of power often speak of cutting government. Once in office, however, they do precisely the opposite. Both of our political parties are far removed from the fear and suspicion of power that the Founding Fathers shared.
Shortly before his death, Russell Kirk, whose book The Conservative Mind was one of the most influential of our time, noted that, "As an instrument of order, the Constitution would be more successful than any other written device in the history of mankind." He warned, however, that:
One of the more pressing perils of our time is that people may be cut off from their roots in culture and community. . . . Moral and social order, or a vast part of it, may be destroyed by a few years of violence or a few decades of contemptuous neglect. Then hope is lost for many generations; for order is a kind of organic growth, developing slowly over many centuries.
Today's Washington would be no surprise to the Founding Fathers. Human nature being what it is, they expected it. The only thing that might surprise them is the faith that some Americans still place in government power. Now that skepticism is growing, the Framers may feel that freedom is a bit more secure. Skepticism of power, after all, is something they made sure to bequeath to future generations of Americans.
In the 1970s, a U.S. Senate committee found widespread abuses at the NSA, the CIA, and other agencies, including programs to spy on Americans. An NSA program called Project Shamrock, for example, had persuaded three major American telegraph companies to hand over a record of most of their traffic. By the time the program ended, in 1975, the NSA had collected information on 75,000 citizens. This information was shared with the CIA, which was conducting its own domestic intelligence program, Operation Chaos.
In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which forbade the intelligence agencies to spy on anyone in the U.S. unless they had probable cause to believe that the person was "a foreign power or the agent of a foreign power." The law established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and, in 1976, Congress created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The NSA and other intelligence agencies are instructed to keep the committee, as well as a similar one in the House, "fully and currently informed."
As a result of material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, we now know a great deal more about how government intelligence agencies are actually working. The provision of the 2001 Patriot Act that allowed for the collection of American phone records was publicly described as analogous to a grand jury subpoena by the Department of Justice, suggesting individual secret warrants. Secret interpretations, however, told a different story. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate oversight committee, said:
Tell me if you've ever seen a grand jury subpoena that allowed the government, on an ongoing basis, to collect the records of millions of Americans.
Intelligence officials have not hesitated to lie to the American people and their elected representatives, even under oath, about what they have been doing. In March, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, was asked by Sen. Wyden, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions of Americans?" He replied, "No sir, it does not."
David Keene, editorial page editor at The Washington Times, notes that:
He could not have attempted such an answer after the Snowden revelations, but at the time, Mr. Clapper may well have thought he'd gotten away with keeping what his minions were up to from the Senate committee charged with overseeing our intelligence operations. Mr. Clapper himself is a career military man. . . . He is, no doubt, a patriot as his defenders claim, but his disregard for the niceties of the law and the Constitution reveal him as a man who should not be in the position of power he now occupies.
In early December, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) called for Clapper's resignation and insisted that he be prosecuted for perjury. Mr. Sensenbrenner has been outraged by the manner in which the NSA and the Obama administration have expanded the meaning of language in the USA Patriot Act, which he drafted. A former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he points out that oversight of activities of the executive branch is a core mission of Congress and that lying to a congressional committee is illegal.
What the Snowden material revealed was a massive, secret national security state - spending $52.6 billion a year, with more than 30,000 employees at the NSA alone. There is, of course, clearly a need for government intelligence. Electronic intelligence was traditionally focused on foreign governments. But those who attacked us at the World Trade Center were private individuals, born abroad and living in the U.S. The NSA shifted its focus and turned inward.
In the years since 9/11, the subjects of NSA collection grew to include patterns within entire populations, including data that can literally retrace the steps of individuals years before they became subjects. The challenge, explained one NSA document, was to "master global networks and handle previously unimagined volumes of raw data for both passive and active collection."
Since 2006 the U.S. government has gathered and stored transaction records of phone calls made in the U.S. For a time, the government collected similar metadata on Internet traffic as well. It harvested and stored hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts on services like Yahoo and Facebook. A program called Dishfire collected text messages from around the world and a database called Tracfin captured credit-card transactions.
While some have made Edward Snowden a hero for revealing the extent of government surveillance programs, the fact is that he himself has violated the law and may have harmed our efforts to combat the very real terrorist threat we face. Matthew Olson, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, points out that, "We have seen, in response to the Snowden leaks, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups seeking to change their tactics."
Still, in the name of protecting national security, we may lose far more than we gain if government agencies are permitted to invade the privacy of millions of Americans - and lie to our elected representatives in the Congress about what they are doing. When electronic surveillance began, with the telegraph and radio, the only way to record an intercept was by writing it down. Now, new technologies permit wholesale copying, sorting and storage of billions of records a day.
In 2010 the House and Senate, without debate, passed a one-year extension of the expiring Patriot Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner, author of the original Patriot Act, wrote in The Los Angeles Times that he and a majority of his colleagues did not know how the law was being used before they voted to endorse it. In 2011, the Patriot Act was extended again, this time until 2015. Sen. Wyden, speaking in the Senate, declared:
I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry. "Did you know what this law actually permits?" "Why didn't you know before you voted on it?"
In an article in The New Yorker asking "Why won't the president rein in the intelligence community?" Ryan Lizza writes that:
The history of the intelligence community. . . reveals a willingness to violate the spirit and the letter of the law, even with oversight. What's more, the benefits of the domestic surveillance programs remain unclear.
In Sen. Wyden's view, the continued revelations about what government agencies are really doing are helping build momentum for changing the law:
We pick up more support as more and more of this comes out. After a decade, we think this is the best opportunity for reform that we're going to have, and we're not going to let it go by.
A coalition of conservatives and liberals, including Wyden, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the extension of the Patriot Act. They lost this time, but they were asking the right questions about the limits of government power in a free society. Government, it seems clear, has exceeded such limits - under both the Bush and Obama administrations.
History shows us that those who seek to expand power and diminish freedom usually have a variety of good reasons to set forth for their purposes, in this case "national security." In the case of Olmstead vs. United States (1927), Justice Louis Brandeis warned that:
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachments of men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
Today's "beneficent" reason to limit our freedom is "national security." It may be called "The Patriot Act," but the real act of patriotism may be, finally, to limit its scope and authority.
The death of Nelson Mandela has taken from us an extraordinary leader, one who embraced reconciliation rather than revenge, and provided his country with an opportunity to move forward without the bloodshed and strife that has characterized other parts of the African continent.
He used the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to heal deep wounds and usher in an era of peace after decades of racial conflict. On a continent with leaders who remain in power for life, Mandela became a role model, stepping down from the presidency after one term.
Apartheid was formally initiated in South Africa in 1948. In his memoir, Mandela recalls that:
I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.
Through the 1940s and early 1950s, Mandela organized and agitated on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC). Initially inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's teachings, Mandela was committed to nonviolent resistance. He practiced law and by 1952 he had become president of the ANC's largest branch, in the Transvaal. He was arrested for the first time in 1952 while organizing an ANC defiance campaign. A court decreed that he could not be in the presence of more than two people at a time. Such repression drove him underground. In 1961, Mandela and others in the ANC formed an armed wing, arguing that all forms of non-violent protest had by then become illegal. This group, Spear of the Nation, carried out an underground campaign of sabotage.
In 1963, Mandela and his colleagues were charged with treason, but when the case went to trial, the charges were changed to sabotage and conspiracy. They were convicted and expected to be hanged. At sentencing, in the last public statement he would make until 1990, he said:
During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have described the cherished ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Instead of death, he was sentenced to Robben Island prison where he would spend 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment confined to a tiny cell and forced to do hard labor in the prison quarry. As unrest against apartheid grew in South Africa, and around the world, in 1982 Mandela was transferred to the Pollamoor Prison on the mainland near Cape Town. A few years later, a series of secret talks took place between Mandela and President P. W. Botha, who offered to release Mandela if he renounced violence. Mandela would not.
South Africa's government began tentative talks with the ANC in exile, led by Oliver Tambo, Mandela's old law partner. These talks led to Mandela's release in 1990. South African President F. W. de Klerk and the National Party thought in 1990 that Mandela could be freed and that a formula could be negotiated that would leave the white minority with a veto power over black rule. But Mandela's release set in motion a chain of events that would lead to free and fair elections and majority rule four years later.
Mandela rejected those in the black community who wanted revenge for the years of apartheid and, instead, called for reconciliation and the creation of a democratic, multi-racial society. He allowed white civil servants and soldiers to stay in their jobs. In 1996, Parliament approved a new national constitution, including a bill of rights guaranteeing protections that most South Africans had never imagined.
That same year, Mandela launched the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Rather than trials, as at Nuremburg after World War II, Mandela's government fostered truth telling and amnesty. Killers who confessed would not be prosecuted. It insured that the seeds of more racial hatred would not be planted.
Mandela sought to bridge the divide between blacks and whites. When South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, he encouraged blacks to support the Springboks, the national rugby team from which blacks were largely alienated and were viewed by many as a symbol of white rule. When the Springboks won a final over New Zealand, Mandela wore a Springbok shirt and presented the trophy to the team captain. This gesture was widely seen as a major step toward racial reconciliation.
On the day of his inauguration, May 10, 1994, Mandela stood at the podium near South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F. W. de Klerk. A year earlier, they had shared the Nobel Prize for what the Nobel committee called "their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new, democratic South Africa."
It is important to remember the leadership of President de Klerk. Many white South Africans did not want to give up power and move toward a multi-racial, democratic society. They had power and military strength on their side. An apartheid regime could more than likely have been maintained for some time, at great cost. But de Klerk and the majority of white South Africans decided to take a chance on freedom. Without such partners, Mandela's legacy might not have become what it is.
Paul Taylor, The Washington Post's correspondent in South Africa from 1992 to 1995, notes that:
Mandela's main partner, President Frederik W. de Klerk, was a shrewd Afrikaner who had the foresight to understand that the grotesque apartheid system he once championed was destroying his country, and he had the fortitude to stick with his surrender-without-a-fight strategy through four arduous years of start-and-stop negotiations, even as the deal grew less attractive for the white minority that had put him in power.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, this writer was a frequent visitor to South Africa and was a regular contributor to a group of Afrikaans-language newspapers, including Die Burger in Cape Town and Beeld in Johannesburg. I had the opportunity to meet with South Africans of all races and to travel widely in the country.
I remember many late night conversations with my Afrikaner friends, in particular, in which I heard the same question many times:
We know apartheid is wrong and immoral. The question is, how can we bring it to an end without becoming a one-party dictatorship as have the other countries in Africa which emerged from colonial rule?
The refrain was often heard in those days of "one man, one vote, one time" with regard to newly independent African countries.
In the end, it became possible to move away from apartheid and become a multi-racial democracy because whites of good will, a majority of white South Africans, but with a significant minority resisting such changes, found a partner with whom to move forward in a positive direction in Nelson Mandela. Without Mandela, it is difficult to see how South Africa could have progressed in the positive way it has thus far.
There is, however, concern that South Africa, in the years since Mandela left office, has not been fulfilling the promise of those years. Racial and economic inequalities remain great and many black residents still lack basic necessities such as electricity, proper housing, and clean water. Education and healthcare remain poor.
There is growing disillusionment with the ruling ANC. Today, the party and its leadership are facing allegations of corruption and of ignoring the needs of impoverished blacks, the constituency that Mandela fought to emancipate and empower.
The Economist reports that while race relations are improving and extremist groups, both white and black, have faded away:
. . . in many other respects, the ANC is floundering. Corruption is pervasive, with a permissive tone set at the top. President Jacob Zuma was previously tainted by an arms-deal scandal, though charges against him were dropped on technicalities. More recently he has been lambasted for the taxpayers' fortune spent on glorifying his rural homestead. An official report on the matter has been declared top secret. Just as big a blot on the ANC record is unemployment. Thirty-seven percent of working-age people . . . are jobless. . . . Black-empowerment schemes to redress apartheid's injustices have been widely abused to enrich ANC-linked people. Mr. Zuma's relatives and pals have hugely benefited. . . . The rate of rape is horrifying. Public hospitals are so bad that people say you go there to die, not to recover.
Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid veteran, has set up her own party out of frustration with the ANC. She says that public education is worse than it was under apartheid. Through corruption and incompetence, she reports, tens of thousands of textbooks go missing every year.
William Gumede, an analyst who has written extensively about Nelson Mandela, declares that:
In all of the great liberation movements there is the problem of producing great leaders to take over. But in this case, there has really been a failure to pass the torch.
What the future holds for South Africa, or for any of us for that matter, cannot be known. The future will unfold in ways none of us ever imagined, What we can know, however, is that Nelson Mandela provided a rare example of magnanimity and good will, and tried to set his much suffering country on a path of achieving dignity and freedom for all of its residents. Now it is up to them. In our troubled world, this is no small accomplishment. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
In his much discussed Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a lot to say about the concept of American "exceptionalism."
He wrote that:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, addressing Putin, noted that:
I'm guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).
Few remember that in the 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastised members of the Jay Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for their heretical belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history "thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions." American Communists started using the term "American exceptionalism" in factional fights. The term slowly moved into more general use.
The term - and the concept - has a long history. American exceptionalism is the theory that the U.S. is qualitatively different from other nations. In this view, America emerged from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called "the first new nation," developing a unique ideology based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, and republicanism. The English writer G. K. Chesterton pointed out that "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed."
The theory of exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the visitor from France in the 1830s, who wrote in Democracy In America that "The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional."
America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:
Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.
In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that "We are the heirs of all times and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the whole world.
Many of our leading thinkers have speculated about American uniqueness, from the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson declared that:
The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride the people legitimately, by the grace of God.
In his book, The Liberal Political Tradition in America (1955), Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz argued that the American political tradition lacked the left-wing/socialist and right-wing/aristocratic elements that dominated in most other countries because colonial America lacked any feudal traditions, such as established churches, landed estates, and a hereditary nobility.
Historians David Potter, Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter followed Hartz in emphasizing that political conflicts in American history remained within the tight boundaries of a consensus regarding private property, individual rights, and representative government. The national government that emerged was far less centralized than its European counterparts.
There are also Puritan roots to the idea of American exceptionalism. The Puritans believed that God had made a pact with their people and had chosen them to provide a model for the other nations on earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop, expressed this idea as creating a "city upon a hill" - that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world.
Historian Gordon Wood writes that:
Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the revolutionary era. So too did the idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy.
Thomas Paine's Common Sense expressed the belief that America was not just an extension of Europe but a new land, a country of nearly unlimited potential and opportunity. These sentiments laid the intellectual foundations for the revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism and were closely tied to republicanism, the belief that sovereignty belonged to the people, not to a hereditary ruling class. Religious freedom characterized the new republic in unique ways - at a time when major nations had state religions.
The U.S. is unique in that it was founded on a set of republican ideals (not wholly realized in its early days, in particular, with the existence of slavery) rather than on a common heritage, ethnicity or ruling elite. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln declared that America is a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
During the radicalism of the 1960s, when many young critics of America denounced their own country, although they knew little of its history, author Mario Puzo wrote:
What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries . . . whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, why not? And some even became artists.
As a young man growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, "For a thousand years in Italy no one in our family was even able to read." But in America everything was possible - in a single generation.
It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal party leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the
. . . millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?
Vladimir Putin seems not to understand that America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been beloved not only by its own citizens but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man, and welcomed men and women of every background who shared that dream and wanted to be part of it.
American exceptionalism, Mr. Putin may eventually come to understand, lies in the fact that our ancestors came from every corner of the world - with every race, ethnicity, religion and language represented. Our free society - this great mixing together - has produced unprecedented creativity and ingenuity. It is not for no reason that America looms so large in the world. As the German Jewish song-writer, Kurt Weill, who found refuge here during World War II, wrote, " Every name is an American name." That very fact alone makes America unique - and exceptional. Perhaps most revealing is the fact that Americans themselves don't think this is unusual at all.
At many universities, it has been said that the teaching of Homer, St. Thomas, Shakespeare, Freud, and Einstein is the perpetuation of the power of "dead white males" over women and minorities.
It is, of course, a contemporary illusion that particular works of art, literature or music are, somehow, the possession of only those who can trace their lineage to the creators of such culture. Shall only Jews read the Old Testament? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only those of English descent read Shakespeare, and only Italians appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci?
Western culture is relevant to men and women of all races and backgrounds, particularly those living in the midst of our Western society. The distinguished black intellectual W. E. B. DuBois recognized this reality when he wrote more than one hundred years ago:
I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line, I walk arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously, with no scorn or condescension. So, with Truth, I dwell above the veil.
Ironically, one dead white male who remains in vogue among campus radicals in the U.S. - as well as with radical movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America - is Karl Marx.
What has been widely overlooked by those who are keeping the Marxist flame alive is the blatant racism of Karl Marx. Largely unknown to his non-white and non-Western admirers is the contempt in which Marx held all non-European peoples and cultures.
Much has been written about the fact that Marx, although of rabbinical descent on both sides of his family, was a dedicated anti-Semite. In fact, his book, World Without Jews is considered by many to be a forerunner to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Little, however, has been written about Marx's racial views, the contempt in which he held not only non-whites, but whole groupings of Europeans, especially the Slavic peoples.
In his book Karl Marx: Racist, Nathaniel Weyl shows how Marx privately developed an entire racial hierarchy and racial view of history by the 1860s. In the middle of that decade, Marx was casting about for some scientific or pseudo-scientific justification for his racial notions, which he found in the work of Pierre Tremaux. He and his friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels went so far as to advocate wars of extermination against Slavic peoples and the destruction of Russia. How ironic that the Soviet Union proclaimed itself a "Marxist" state.
"Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels," Weyl writes:
. . . were neither internationalists nor believers in equal rights for all races and peoples. They opposed the struggles for national independence of those races and peoples that they despised. They believed that the "barbaric" and "ahistoric" peoples who comprised the immense majority of mankind had played no significant role in history and were not destined to do so in the foreseeable future. They regarded them as obstacles to the forward sweep of history. They considered them as objects rather than subjects. They were people who ought to be conquered and exploited by the more advanced nations. Some of these inferior stock were people who ought to be eradicated and swept from the surface of the earth.
Marx took from Hegel, another German philosopher, the idea that certain races, peoples, and nations were "ahistoric." Either they had never played any role in history and never would, as in the case of black Africans, or they were insignificant peoples whose history was irrelevant, or they were frozen at civilizational levels at which the more advanced portions of mankind had already left them behind.
"There were ideas," Weyl notes:
. . . which Marx would adopt and transform. . . . Publicly and for political reasons, both Marx and Engels posed as friends of the Negro. In private, they were anti-black racists of the most odious sort. They had contempt for the entire Negro race, a contempt they expressed by comparing Negroes to animals, by identifying black people with "idiots" and by continuously using the opprobrious term "nigger" in their private correspondence.
Marx, for example, wrote to Engels on July 30, 1862, about one of the leaders of socialism in Germany and his rival, Ferdinand Lasalle, whom he referred to as, "that Jewish nigger, Lasalle." He wrote:
It is now absolutely clear to me that, as both the shape of his head and his hair texture shows - he descends from the Negroes who joined Moses' flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the paternal side hybridized with a nigger) . . . The pushiness of the fellow is also nigger-like.
Marx even championed slavery in North America. When Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, probably the leading socialist thinker in France at the time, published a book called The Philosophy of Poverty, Marx replied with a vitriolic rebuttal entitled The Poverty of Philosophy (1874). Proudhon had advocated the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Marx replied:
Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world and you will have anarchy - the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.
In the U.S., socialists early in the 20th century adopted Marx's racist views. On September 14, 1901, the Social Democratic Herald characterized black Americans as inferior, depraved elements who went around "raping women and children." In an article in the paper dated May 31, 1902, Victor Berger, one of the national leaders of the Socialist Party, wrote that "there can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattos constitute a lower race."
It is ironic that the most acceptable white male in the curriculum for "diversity" on many campuses is Karl Marx, who was himself a bigot. At one time, Marx referred to a Creole man who married his niece as a "gorilla offspring." Marx also approved of European imperialism in Asia because he considered the Asian culture so inferior that it was incapable of entering historic development without a European push. Of China and India, he said they were "semi-barbarian and semi-civilized" and had "no history at all, at least no human history."
Marx's colleague Friedrich Engels was equally racist in his views. When he learned that Marx's son-in-law, who had some African ancestry, was running as a socialist in a district that also contained the Paris zoo, Engels observed:
Being in his quality as a nigger a degree closer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of that district.
In his address to the freshman class at Yale in 1990 - which is as relevant, if not more so, today - Donald Kagan, at that time Professor of History and Classics and Dean of Yale College, declared:
The assault on the character of Western civilization badly distorts history. The West's flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations known on any continent at any time in human history. What is remarkable about the Western heritage . . . are the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience. . . . It has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting the state's power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate. . . . At its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity, unknown in most cultures.
Our unity as a nation is threatened, in Kagan's view, by those who would replace the teaching of our history and culture with some other "multi-cultural" curriculum:
. . . . American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western Civilization, and especially from England. . . . I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania. . . . Our students will be handicapped in their lives after college if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and the roots from which they come. . . . As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group . . . increases and with it the danger to the national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many people's to this country.
Given the racial attitudes of Karl Marx, it is an irony of history that he remains immune from criticism on the part of those non-whites and non-Europeans for whom he expressed such distaste. Of course, as it has been said many times, the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. It is high time that we pay attention to the past so that we do not repeat its mistakes - or make heroes of those for whom we should have contempt. Karl Marx would be a good place to begin.
The latest public opinion polls show that only 8.4 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress conducts business, while 84.7 percent disapprove.
Approval of Congress is at a new low in 40 years of polling. Beyond this, Americans' approval of their own representative in Washington is under water for the first time, and a record number of registered voters are inclined to look for someone new in 2014. Only 25 percent of registered voters say they are inclined to re-elect their representatives to Congress. This is true for Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.
The role that money plays in our political life deserves increased scrutiny. A new book from a conservative advocate of tighter campaign finance regulations seeks to draw attention to a number of questionable - but legal - activities that place the spotlight on Capitol Hill.
The author is Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, whose earlier book focused on how members of both parties enriched themselves by trading stock based on information they obtained by virtue of their position in Congress. The book helped lead to the Stock Act, which banned insider trading for representatives and senators.
It is Schweizer's hope that his new book, Extortion, will push Congress to address loopholes in the campaign finance system, including the banning of "Leadership PACs," which permit politicians to solicit and spend money without the same restrictions they face when using their campaign committees.
In Schweizer's view, these groups have become slush funds that enable lavish lifestyles while they exist, in theory, to help members of Congress finance their own campaigns and help political allies.
The book details the extravagant spending of both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) presided over a leadership PAC that spent $10,000 on golf at Pebble Beach, nearly $27,000 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and $107,752 at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Sen. Roy Blount (R-MO) spent $65,000 at a resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) used his leadership PAC to spend $64,500 on a painting of himself. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) used hers to pay for catered parties at her home several times a month.
Peter Schweizer accuses Congress of running an "extortion racket." Writing in The New York Times, he notes:
Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash? This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money. Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the "tollbooth." Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill's passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.
Another tactic is what Beltway insiders call "milker bills." Schweizer describes them this way:
These are bills designed to "milk" donations from threatened individuals or businesses. The real trick is to pit two industries against each other and pump both for donations, thereby creating a "double milker" bill. President Obama and Vice President Biden seemed to score big in 2011 using the milker tactic in connection with two bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. By pitting their supporters in Silicon Valley who opposed the bills against their allies in Hollywood who supported the measures . . . Obama and Biden were able to create a sort of fund-raising arms race.
Schweizer points out:
The reason these fund-raising extortion tactics succeed is that politicians deploy them while bills are making their way through Congress, when lawmakers possess maximum leverage. That's why at least 27 state legislatures have put restrictions on allowing state politicians to receive contributions while the legislatures are in session.
Beyond the abuse of money, members of Congress regularly pass laws for the rest of us - from which they exempt themselves. In the recent controversy over the Affordable Care Act, for example, Americans learned that congressional staff members were to receive subsidies not available to other Americans, many with far lower incomes. Traditionally, Congress has exempted itself from laws and regulations it imposes upon other Americans - from Social Security, to affirmative action, to occupational health and safety rules.
Recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a constitutional amendment stating:
Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.
This amendment also contains two provisions that apply that same principle to the executive branch and judicial branch of the federal government.
Sen. Paul declares:
Under this amendment, Congress, federal judges and even the White House will no longer be able to exempt themselves from the laws they create, uphold or sign - as they all regularly do now in a plethora of ways. . . . Obviously, amending the Constitution is no small task. It requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and must be ratified by at least 38 states. However, which politicians will now publicly say they truly think Washington should be exempt from the laws it makes for the rest of us? What possible excuse would members of either party come up with for not supporting this amendment?
When Americans view Congress with dismay, they have many reasons for doing so. When the Affordable Care Act was first being promoted, Nancy Pelosi, as House Speaker, said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it." Now we can see where passing bills no one has read can lead.
One question that remains to be answered is: who exactly are the 8.4 percent of Americans who do approve of the job Congress is doing?
The Washington association that lobbies for lobbyists wants to change its name - eliminating the term "lobbyist."
The American League of Lobbyists has decided to call itself the "Association of Government Relations Professionals." In a letter to the group's 1,200 members, Monte Ward, the group's president, noted that:
The new brand will seek to fully represent the broad range of responsibilities that a government relations professional practices daily.
Groups often change their names when those names become a burden. In 2006, the Association of Trial Lawyers became the American Association for Justice. But the negative role of lobbyists in today's political environment cannot so simply be removed from public view.
Political scientist Thomas R. Dye points out that politics is about battling over scarce government resources: who gets them, where, when, why, and how.
The Washington Post estimates that in recent years there have been 13,700 registered lobbyists in a nation's Capitol "teeming with lobbyists." In 2011, The Guardian reported that, in addition to registered lobbyists, thousands more unregistered lobbyists are likely to exist in Washington. The ratio of lobbyists employed by the health care industry compared to every elected politician was 6-1.
Wall Street lobbyists and the financial industry spent at least $100 million in one year to court regulators and lawmakers, since they were finalizing new regulations for lending, trading, and debit card fees. JPMorgan Chase has an in-house team of lobbyists who spent $3.3 million in 2010. The American Bankers Association spent $4.6 million on lobbying. A trade group representing hedge funds spent more than $1 million in one quarter trying to influence the government about financial regulations, including an effort to try to change a rule that might demand greater disclosure requirements for funds. Amazon.com spent $450,000 in one quarter lobbying about a possible online sales tax as well as rules about data protection and privacy. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has major defense contracts, pours millions into lobbying.
Between January and September 2011, Boeing spent $12 million lobbying, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. Additionally, Boeing has its own political action committee (PAC) that donated more than $2.2 million to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle.
According to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a series of violations of the law, one of the best ways to "get what he wanted" was to offer a high-ranking congressional aide a high paying job after they decided to leave public office. When such a promise of future employment was accepted, according to Abramoff, "we owned them." His own conviction on corruption charges led to the convictions of 20 lobbyists and public officials, including Rep. Robert Ney and former deputy Interior Secretary Stephen Griles.
In the Abramoff case, he represented an Indian casino that was worried about the possible ill effects of legislation on its gambling business. Abramoff lobbied actively against his own casino client as a way to increase their fears of adverse legislation. He also overbilled his clients as well as violating rules about giving gifts to congressmen.
Abramoff may be an extreme case. But those lobbyists working within the letter of the law often subvert our system of representative government in other ways. Lobby groups, for example, sometimes write legislation - which is then submitted by members of Congress. Bloomberg News reports that lobbying is a
. . . sound money-making strategy for the 20 largest federal contractors. The largest contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., received almost $40 billion in federal contracts in 2003-4 and spent $16 million on lobbying expenses and campaign donations. For each dollar of lobbying investment, the firm received $2,517 in revenues.
Perhaps most shocking is the revolving door between members of Congress and the entire lobbying enterprise. There was a time - in recent memory - when members of Congress who retired or were defeated returned to their homes. A few still do. But more and more do not.
Public Citizen reports that the lucrative world of K Street means that former members of Congress with even "modest seniority" can move into jobs paying $1 million or more annually.
In 2005, Public Citizen published a report entitled "The Journey from Congress to K Street." It found that since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government to join private life have registered to lobby. A similar report from the Center for Responsible Politics found 370 former members were in the "influence peddling industry," with 285 officially registered as federal lobbyists and 85 others who were described as providing "strategic advice" or "public relations" to corporate clients. These include Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.
In one case, Bob Livingston of Louisiana stepped down as Speaker-elect and resigned his seat in 1999. In the six years since his resignation, The Livingston Group grew into the 12th largest non-law lobbying firm, earning nearly $40 million by the end of 2004. During the same time period, Livingston, his wife, and two PACs contributed over $500,000 to various campaigns.
It is not only former members of Congress who move on to lobbying. A 2011 study found that nearly 5,400 former congressional staff members had become federal lobbyists over a 10-year period.
Former Rep. Richard Gephardt in 2007 began his own lobbying firm called "Gephardt Government Affairs Group" and in 2010 it was earning close to $7 million in revenues with clients such as Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Visa. Senators Robert Bennett and Byron Dorgan became lobbyists as did former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Senator Trent Lott didn't wait for retirement to become a lobbyist, but resigned from the Senate to do so. In 2010, former Rep. Billy Tauzin earned $11 million running the drug industry's lobbying organization, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. When he was in Congress, he was chairman of a committee regulating this same industry.
Barry Hessenius, in Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits, writes:
The structure of representative government, elected by the people, was to be our system's built-in protection of the whole of us - fairly elected office-holders were to represent their constituent groups, free from any obligations to special interests. Unfortunately, money has corrupted the system and compromised both the fairness of the electoral process as well as the independence and impartiality of elected officials.
Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Republic Lost, suggests that the money and persuasive power of special interests has insinuated itself between the people and the lawmakers. He quoted Rep. Jim Cooper who remarked that Congress had become a "Farm League for K Street" in the sense that members of Congress were focused on lucrative lobbying careers after Congress rather than on serving the public interest while in Congress.
Americans often wonder why their government seems out of control and why we cannot stop subsidizing large corporations, or agricultural conglomerates, or failed banks. Perhaps a careful look at the role played by lobbyists - and the millions of dollars they invest in promoting the interests of their clients - will point us in the right direction. Unfortunately, members of Congress who are looking forward to a large payoff on K Street after public service, are unlikely to resist the influence of lobbyists and those they represent.
The American League of Lobbyists may change its name, but its role in challenging the very essence of genuinely representative government is likely to continue - to the detriment of us all. *
By any standard, Washington is increasingly dysfunctional. President Obama has not submitted a budget and Congress has not adopted a budget. Under our present sequester, government employees are losing one day of work a week, whether their roles are essential or not. Congress refuses to go to the trouble of differentiating. And now there are threats once again of closing the government if particular programs are not enacted. Congress left Washington for an August vacation, ignoring the country's vital business.
A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that Congress' approval rating fell to an all-time low of 12 percent. If the government shuts down in the fall, it could go to zero. President Obama's approval rating is also in decline, now at 45 percent.
But in Washington itself, our permanent political class is alive and well. This summer's widely read book, This Town, by The New York Times' Mark Leibovich, helps to explain the reality - in which Democrats and Republicans, self-proclaimed "liberals" and "conservatives," work closely together - not to advance the public interest, but to promote their own.
In 1974, only 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, that number is 42 percent for members of the House and 50 percent for Senators. There is widespread inter-connectedness at the top in Washington. Alleged spokesmen for the right and left may heatedly debate on cable television, but the reality on the ground is far different.
In 2010, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), after writing in The New York Times about the "corrosive system of campaign financing," joined with Andrew Card, the former Bush chief of staff, in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against corporate regulatory reform. After BP's oil spill in the Gulf, it recruited what Leibovich calls a "bipartisan dream team" that included both a former top spokesman for Dick Cheney and the Democratic fund-raiser Tony Podesta.
Two of the top three political-action-committee donors to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are the same: Comcast and AT&T. The former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott and former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt are united in lobbying for GE. Increasingly typical is the bipartisan lobbying firm of Quinn, Gillespsie, & Associates. Jack Quinn, who had been Bill Clinton's White House counsel, joined with Ed Gillespsie, a principal drafter of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, and a former aid to Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who recently received $8 million in severance from the tea-party group, Freedomworks, are now working together to advance a variety of special interests. Their idea, which many others share, is that administrations come and go, but they will be successful regardless.
Jack Quinn says:
We never lost a wink of sleep hypothesizing what the effect of the election outcome might be on the firm. We have a good group of Republicans and a fantastic group of Democrats.
Alex Pareene of Salon argues that while hyper-partisanship is one reason people have a negative view of Washington, there is a larger source of that contempt:
. . . the capital's permanent, unshakable, elite over-class, many of whom are involved in the process by which corporations and the rentier rich tighten their control over the levers of power and use that control to extract as much wealth from the nation's laborers and taxpayers and natural resources as possible.
Even many of the populist tea-party revolutionaries elected in 2010 quickly began raising funds from the very corporations and special interests they had been criticizing. They recruited lobbyists to staff their congressional offices. The tea-party backed senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, hired an AT&T and Citigroup lobbyist as his chief of staff.
In 2008, Barack Obama declared that:
When I am president, I will start by closing the revolving door in the White House that's allowed people to use their administration job as a stepping-stone to further their lobbying careers.
It hasn't worked out that way. Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, is now at Citibank. Jake Stewart, the Treasury Department's counselor, is now a spokesman for Goldman Sachs. David Plouffe, the campaign manager and senior presidential adviser, went on to become a consultant for Boeing and GE. Or consider Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director who helped Michelle Obama set up her program to fight obesity in children. She is now a consultant with food manufacturers and media firms to block restrictions on commercials for sugary foods targeting children.
Writing in New York Magazine, Frank Rich notes that:
It's clear that the president himself has been either passive or ineffectual when it comes to exerting any moral authority over the White House Alumni who've been streaming through the revolving door.
In his book, Mark Leibovich describes a Washington inhabited by a "permanent feudal class" - a phrase he attributes to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) - "It's not Democrats. It's not Republicans, it's just a class."
He describes it this way:
Journalists are part of it. Lobbyists are part of it. Hangers-on and wannabes are part of it. This class, like every other ruling class, has one primary aim toward which all efforts strive: staying in power by any means necessary.
Rather than devoting themselves to the political objectives they were elected to pursue, the only goals of the men and women described by Leibovich are fame, power, money, and being at the center of whatever is happening. In this view, today's partisan gridlock has become just another narrative playing out in the spectacle of politics - another way for the ruling class to generate fame and wealth through endless talk-show appearances and speaking engagements.
To cover Washington allows you to live in the very, very wide gap between what the actual truth is, and how people are trying to manipulate the truth. They speak in the language of spin, obsequiousness, obfuscation.
What surprised Leibovich most, he says, is that no one has challenged his underlying premise. Rather than taking him to task for exposing them, the players in the book love the publicity:
I've gotten e-mails from people who are not portrayed well in the book - former senators, former congressmen, people who have been here a long time, who are sending me far more humble e-mails, than I would have expected. I was hoping, or expecting, that someone would make some kind of argument for why it's not as bad as I say, or why there's more nobility than I describe, or why I'm not such a bad guy, not me personally, but why Senator X who's now Lobbyist X is now multi-zillionaire X. For all the noise there's been about the book, I've been much more stunned by the silence from the sectors that should have their backs up a little bit.
In the mid-1950s, there were 5,000 registered lobbyists in Washington. Now, there are more than 12,000 - and many thousands more who have reclassified themselves as "consultants." Untold numbers are former members of Congress, former congressional staff members, and White House officials. They spend as much as $3.5 billion annually. The amount they manage to divert from the government's $3.5 trillion annual budget makes their own expenditure seem trivial.
Terry McAuliffe, now the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, is now being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, for using political influence to gain visas for foreign investors in a company with ties to both McAuliffe and Hillary Clinton's brother, Anthony Rodham. And Hillary Clinton's long-time aide Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, was discovered by Politico in May to have taken on other clients, including Tenco, a "global advisory firm," founded by former Clinton aide Doug Brand, while she was being paid as a consultant at the State Department. This, it seems, is how our permanent, bipartisan political class conducts itself.
Perhaps someday, when more Americans come to understand how Washington's permanent political class really works, we can move beyond the partisan rhetoric of cable television and confront the real problems we face. That day, unfortunately, seems to be in the distant future. But Mark Leibovich has performed a notable service in pointing us in the right direction.
Without trust in the truthfulness of government officials, it is impossible for the elected representatives of the people to conduct public business in a manner the public will consider honest.
Recent revelations about government surveillance programs, and the inaccurate statements made about them - some under oath - indicate that we have a serious problem.
In July, the top lawyer in the U.S. intelligence community made a rare public appearance and pointed out that much of the information being distributed about government surveillance programs was wrong. "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on," said Robert Litt, citing a line attributed to Mark Twain. "Unfortunately, there's been a lot of misinformation that's come out about these programs."
Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was talking about news organizations. But details have emerged from the exposure of hundreds of pages of previously classified NSA documents indicating that public statements about these programs by senior U.S. officials have often been misleading, erroneous, or simply false.
The same day that Litt spoke, the NSA removed from its web site a fact sheet about its collection activities because it contained inaccuracies discovered by lawmakers.
A week earlier, President Obama said, in a T.V. Interview, that oversight of the surveillance programs was "transparent" because of the involvement of a special court. "It is transparent," Obama said of the oversight process. "That's why we set up the FISA court."
A remark by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr. drew the most attention. During a congressional hearing in March, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked whether the NSA collected data on millions of Americans. Clapper, under oath, replied, "No, sir."
According to The Washington Post:
. . . an examination of public statements over a period of years suggests that officials have often relied on legalistic parsing and carefully hedged characterizations in discussing the NSA's collection of communications. Obama's assurances have hinged, for example, on a term - targeting - that has a specific meaning for U.S. spy agencies that would elude most ordinary citizens.
On PBS's "Charlie Rose Show," President Obama said:
What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your e-mails.
Still, the Post points out:
. . . even if it is not allowed to target U.S. citizens, the NSA has a significant latitude to collect and keep contents of e-mails and other communications of U.S. citizens that are swept up as part of the agency's court-approved monitoring of a target overseas. The law allows the NSA to examine such messages and share them with other agencies if it determines that the information contained evidence of a crime, conveys a serious threat, or is necessary to understand foreign intelligence.
President George W. Bush at times engaged in similarly careful phrasing to defend surveillance programs. In 2004, while calling for renewal of the Patriot Act, Bush sought to reassure critics by saying "the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order." At the time it had not been publicly disclosed that Bush had secretly authorized NSA surveillance of communications between U.S. residents and contacts overseas while bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).
When the wiretapping operation was exposed in the media two years later, Bush defended it as a program "that listens to a few numbers, called from outside the U.S. by al-Qaeda affiliates." Later revelations made clear that the scope was far greater than he suggested.
Members of Congress tasked with overseeing national security policy say that a pattern of misleading testimony by senior Obama administration officials has weakened the ability of Congress to properly oversee government surveillance. Officials, they report, have either denied the existence of a broad program that collects data on millions of Americans or, more often, made statements that gave them the impression that the government was conducting only narrow, targeted surveillance operations.
Two Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) say that even in top-secret briefings officials "significantly exaggerated" the effectiveness of the program that collected data on Americans' e-mail usage.
At least two Republican lawmakers have called for the removal of intelligence chief James Clapper. A letter to Clapper sent in June from 26 senators from both parties complained about a series of statements from senior officials that "had the effect of misleading the public" and that "will undermine trust in government more broadly."
"The national security state has grown so that any administration is now not upfront with Congress," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. "It's an imbalance that's grown in our government, and one that we have to cleanse."
In Sen. Wyden's view, a number of administration statements have made it:
. . . impossible for the public or Congress to have a genuinely informed debate about government surveillance. These statements gave the public a false impression of how these authorities were actually being interpreted. . . . The secret body of law authorizing secret surveillance overseen by a largely secret court has infringed on Americans' civil liberties and privacy rights without offering the public the ability to judge for themselves whether these broad powers are appropriate or necessary.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), an author of the Patriot Act, and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he thought he and his colleagues had created a sufficiently narrow standard for seeking information. The government is allowed to collect only data that is "relevant" to an authorized terrorism investigation, "The relevancy requirement was intended to be limited," says Sensenbrenner. "Instead, what we're hearing now is that 'relevant' was expanding."
Calling it a "stretch of the English language" for the administration to consider millions of Americans' phone records to be "relevant," he asked, "How can we do good oversight if we don't get truthful and non-misleading information?"
Telling less than the truth to the American people and their elected representatives is hardly new. We were led to war in Iraq because of alleged "weapons of mass destruction" which, we later discovered, did not exist. And, consider the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that led to the war in Vietnam.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was put before Congress by President Lyndon Johnson on Aug. 5, 1964, purportedly in reaction to two allegedly "unprovoked" attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin on Aug. 2 and 4. Its stated purpose was to approve and support the determination of the president in taking all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against U.S. forces.
Both houses of Congress approved the resolution, the House by 414-0 and the Senate by 88-2. The resolution served as the principal constitutional authorization for the subsequent escalation and the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
While the Aug. 2 attack was said to be "unprovoked," it later became known that the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese Navy and the Laotian Air Force. In 1995, Vo Nguyen Giap, who had been North Vietnam's military commander during the Vietnam War, acknowledged the Aug. 2 attack but denied that the Vietnamese had launched another attack on Aug. 4 as the Johnson administration claimed.
A later investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed that the Maddox had been on an electronic intelligence mission and also learned that the U.S. Naval Command Center in the Philippines had questioned whether any second attack had actually occurred. In 2005, an internal NSA historical study was declassified. It concluded that the Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on Aug. 2 but that there may not have been any North Vietnamese Naval vessels present on Aug. 4. The study concluded:
It is not simply that there is a different story of what happened. It is that no attack happened that night.
In 1965, President Johnson commented privately, "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there." One of the Navy pilots flying overhead on Aug. 4 was Squadron Commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and as Ross Perot's vice presidential candidate. He said:
I had the best seat in the house to watch the event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets - there were no PT boats there. There was nothing there but black water and American firepower.
As time went on, members of Congress saw the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as giving the president a blank check to wage war and the resolution was repealed in 1970.
We have real enemies at the present time, as we have had in the past. There may indeed be a need for a variety of surveillance programs. But for democracy to work, the elected representatives of the people in the Congress must not be lied to by non-elected government officials. If Americans are to trust their government, that government must be trustworthy. We have been lied to before, and have paid a heavy price. Having a society in which citizens question the truthfulness of their own government weakens us. Only our enemies gain from such lack of trust.
Detroit is the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy. Its long-term debts are estimated at $18.2 billion. Of this about $9.2 billion is in unfunded retirement benefits.
The causes of Detroit's financial collapse are largely the result of its own unfortunate history of corruption and financial excess, and only partly caused by global economic trends and their impact upon the auto industry.
Detroit has been a one-party city for many years, never a good thing. The last Republican mayor, Louis Miriani, was elected in 1957. Since 1970, only one Republican, Keith Butler, has been elected to the city council. When one political party - whether Democratic or Republican - keeps an iron grip on political power for decades, we can observe a recipe for disaster.
Racial politics has also played a part in Detroit's decline. In 1974, the city's newly elected black mayor, Coleman Young, declared of the local police:
It is time to leave Detroit. Hit Eight Mile Road. And I don't give a damn if they are black or white, if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road.
Thus, the first African American mayor of Detroit equated the police with criminals. White flight, which began after the rioting of the late 1960s, accelerated. In 1970, Detroit's population was 1.5 million. Forty-four percent was black, 54 percent was white. By 1990, the city's population had fallen to slightly more than l million with African Americans accounting for 78 percent and whites only 20 percent.
Mayor Young rewarded his base. The police force became 50 percent minority and efforts to steer city business to black-owned companies resulted in two federal corruption probes in the early 1980s. While Young himself was never charged, his police chief, William Hart, was convicted of embezzling $2.4 million in police funds in 1992.
Young's successor, Kwame Kilpatrick, resigned in the midst of a "pay-to-play" and sex scandal in 2008. In March, he was convicted on 23 counts, including racketeering and bribery. The city rapidly deteriorated. Its homicide rate doubled from about 30 per 100,000 residents in 1970 to 60 per 100,000 by 1990. Today, according to FBI statistics, Detroit is the most dangerous big city in America, with a crime rate five times the national average.
Editorially, The Detroit Free Press laments:
Decades of mismanagement and bad practices, coupled with catastrophic market declines, have altered the pensions from a reliable way to assure retirees' futures into a massive financial burden.
Clearly, Detroit is in a state of collapse. Charlie LeDuff, a reporter at the TV station WHBK, and author of, Detroit: An American Autopsy, reports that:
I know of an 11-year-old boy who was shot, the bullet going clear through his arm. The cops stuffed him in the back of a squad car and rushed him to the hospital. That's how we do it. There was no ambulance available. About two-thirds of the city's fleet is broken on an average day. I know a cop who drives around in a squad car with holes in the floorboards. There is no computer, no air-conditioning, the odometer reading 147,000 miles. His bulletproof vest has expired. His pay has been cut 10 percent. I knew a firefighter who died in a fire, but not from the fire. He died when the roof of an abandoned house collapsed on him and his brethren could not find him because his homing alarm was broken and did not sound. He suffocated.
Recently, Detroit's 911 dispatch system went down for 15 hours, and no one seemed to care. When the system is running, the average wait for assistance is 58 minutes. Firefighters cannot use hydraulic ladders on fire trucks to do their jobs unless there is an "immediate threat to life." Charlie LeDuff urges his fellow Americans to:
. . . come visit Detroit. . . . Come take a look at your future. Come give the tires a kick. And if you want your money back, come strip copper pipes and wiring from the abandoned buildings - if you can find any copper. Chances are, someone beat you to it.
Year after year, politicians worked closely - not only in Detroit but in cities across the country - with powerful labor unions, especially public-sector unions, that give money to elect the politicians who negotiated their contracts with unsustainable health and pension benefits.
The Economist declares that Detroit's bankruptcy
. . . is a flashing warning light on America's fiscal dashboard. Though some of its woes are unique, a crucial one is not. Many other state and city governments across America have made impossible-to-keep promises to do with pensions and health care. Detroit shows what can happen when leaders put off reforming the public sector for too long.
Nearly half of Detroit's liabilities stem from promises of pensions and health care to its workers when they retire. According to The Economist:
American states and cities typically offer their employees defined benefit pensions based on years of service and final salary. These are supposed to be covered by funds set aside for the purpose. By the states' own estimates, their pension pots are only 73 percent funded. That is bad enough, but nearly all states apply an optimistic discount rate to their obligations, making the liabilities seem smaller than they are. If a more sober one is applied, the true ratio is a terrifying 48 percent. And many states are much worse. The hole in Illinois's pension pot is equivalent to 241 percent of its annual tax revenues; for Kentucky, 141 percent; for New Jersey, 137 percent.
By one recent estimate, the total pension gap for the states is $2.7 trillion, or 17 percent of GDP. This underestimates the problem because it omits both the unfunded pension figure for cities and the health-care promises made to government workers. Governors and mayors have long offered generous pensions to public employees -buying votes today and sending the bill to future taxpayers. Beyond this, some public employees are promoted just before retirement or allowed to pick up many hours of overtime, raising their final-salary pension for the rest of their lives. Some unions win cost-of-living adjustments far above inflation. A watchdog group in Rhode Island calculated that a retired local fire chief would be given $800,000 a year if he lived to 100. More than 20,000 public employees in California receive pensions of over $100,000.
The Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College reports that states' pensions are 27 percent underfunded. That adds up to a shortfall of $1 trillion. At the same time, they are paying only about four-fifths of their required annual contribution. On a more realistic discount rate of 5 percent, the CRR estimates the shortfall may be $2.7 trillion. A similar calculation by Moody's, a ratings agency, says that pension plans are 52 percent underfunded.
Banking analyst Meredith Whitney, who predicted the financial crisis of 2007, predicts a chain reaction of dozens of cities becoming insolvent. Even less pessimistic experts forecast further credit downgrades, which will raise borrowing costs for cities and drive them deeper into debt. Chicago was just downgraded and Fitch, a major ratings agency, is considering a broader re-evaluation of local government debt on the basis of the situation in Detroit.
The promises of Detroit's politicians have for some time outgrown the economy on which it rests. Since 2011, other cities - such as Stockton and San Bernardino, California - and Jefferson County, Alabama - have declared bankruptcy. Others are now waiting in the wings.
Opportunistic politicians and greedy unions are responsible for Detroit's total collapse, and the dire straits of other cities and states. Surely, those who brought about this economic collapse are hardly the ones to guide us in the future. Where the leaders we need to reverse course are to be found is difficult to imagine in our increasingly dysfunctional politics. Unless something changes - and quickly - the economic stability of our society does not appear to be promising. Today, the chickens of past policy excesses are coming home to roost, as they always do. What were these politicians and union leaders thinking?
A military jury has found Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, guilty of carrying out the largest mass murder at a military installation in U.S. history. He was found guilty of 13 charges of premeditated murder, and 32 of attempted murder.
Major Hasan was born in Arlington, Virginia to Palestinian parents. He attended Virginia Tech and began his military medical school training in 1997, two years after he began active duty. For months and even years before the attack at Ft. Hood, his views on Islam had turned extreme. In December 2008, ten months before the shooting, he sent the first of 16 messages and e-mails to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, American-born cleric who encouraged several terrorist plots. He asked Awlaki whether Muslim American troops who killed other American soldiers in the name of Islam would be considered "fighting jihad, and if they did die would you consider them shaheeds?" an Arabic word for martyrs.
Mr. Awlaki never replied to that message. But in 2010, in an interview with the mental health panel that evaluated him, Hasan appeared to answer his own question. He told the panel that if he died by lethal injection, "I would still be a martyr."
Shortly after 1 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2009, Hasan walked into Ft. Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center with two guns, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" (meaning "God is great!") and opened fire. Twelve people who were killed were soldiers waiting for medical tests; the other was a civilian who tried to tackle Hasan.
The shootings have raised a number of questions. A series of failings by the Defense Department were evident. A Pentagon report concluded that the Defense Department was unprepared for internal threats, as was the F.B.I. On one occasion, Hasan gave a presentation to senior Army doctors in which he discussed Islam and suicide bombers and warned that Muslims should be allowed to leave the armed forces as conscientious objectors to avoid "adverse events."
The F.B.I. was also aware that Hasan had exchanged the e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. The F.B.I. dismissed the e-mails as legitimate research and the Defense Department was never informed.
A more important question, perhaps, relates to the refusal by our government to call the shooting a terrorist attack and to categorize those killed and injured as victims of terrorism, which denies them important benefits. Instead, the Defense Department has categorized the shooting as an episode of "workplace violence."
One of those injured in the Ft. Hood attack, Shawn Manning, a retired Army staff sergeant and mental health counselor, described the attack:
I was waiting for a medical exam before what would have been my third deployment overseas. I was texting my wife when I heard the shout of "Allahu Akbar!" I looked up to see a man in Army fatigues firing a pistol. His fourth or fifth shot went into my chest. As screams broke out around me, I collapsed to the ground. The bullet had punctured my lung and I was gasping for breath. As I lay there, he shot me five more times in my back and legs.
During his recovery Manning learned:
. . . that the Army had classified the shooting as nonpolitical workplace violence instead of a terrorist attack. The language used to describe the attack may seem meaningless, but it is very meaningful to the victims and their families. Because the Army decided that our wounds were not "combat-related," a number of benefits are being denied to the victims and their families, including certain health and disability ones. In some instances, the designation even resulted in victims receiving smaller salaries than we would have received during our deployment. . . . I have watched other victims and their families be denied disability benefits and treated indifferently by the Army. . . . But it is a mistake to think that the terrorism designation is just about benefits. It is also about the government acknowledging its complicity in the attack. Before the shooting, the Army knew that the gunman was an Islamic religious extremist. After the attack, a bipartisan Senate report concluded that the Defense Department had evidence that Hasan "embraced views so extreme that it should have disciplined him or discharged him from the military, but DoD failed to take action against him."
Before, during and after his attack, Hasan made his jihadist goals clear. In May 2012, Congress placed a clause inside the Defense Appropriations Act requiring the Pentagon to award Purple Hearts to the Ft. Hood victims. Congress was told that President Obama would veto the appropriations bill and so leave the Pentagon without a budget unless the clause was removed. The administration was determined then - and is determined now - to describe what was clearly a terrorist act as "workplace violence."
On the first day of his trial, Hasan admitted that he perpetrated his murderous assault because he is a jihadist who "switched sides" in the war. He told the court that he conducted the attack as an act of war against the United States.
Why has President Obama and his administration attempted to obscure the real motives of the perpetrator in the Ft. Hood murders? There appears to be an effort by the administration to claim "victory" in the war on terrorism, a claim that would seem less persuasive if continued acts of terrorism were to occur. After the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, the administration initially referred to what we now know was a premeditated, pre-planned attack, as mob violence in response to an anti-Islamic video on YouTube.
Refusing to describe acts of terrorism as what they are is hardly a strategy designed to make Americans more secure or to cause Americans to believe what they are told by their government. Immediately after the Ft. Hood attack, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, then commander of III Corps at Ft. Hood, said preliminary evidence didn't such suggest that the shooting was terrorism. Cone said this even though it was immediately known that before he started shooting, Hasan called out "Allahu Akbar!" He called himself a "Soldier of Islam" in his business cards. What was Gen. Cone thinking?
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Shawn Manning believes that Hasan's conviction is a step toward justice but is surely correct in concluding:
That journey won't be complete until the government tells the truth about the attack, provides proper support for the victims, and takes measures to ensure that these mistakes won't happen again. *
The death of Trayvon Martin is, of course, a devastating event for his family. That a 17-year-old boy returning from a visit to a nearby store for a snack should have his life taken is difficult to understand and accept. On many levels, the incident was, as President Obama has said, "tragic."
Still, this event has provoked demagoguery that ignores the complex facts of the case itself and has provided an opportunity for provocateurs to proclaim that race relations in America are similar to those of the segregated Old South, as if the notable progress we have made in recent years had never happened. Consider some of the things we have heard.
Jesse Jackson referred to the trial as "Old South Justice." NAACP President Benjamin Jealous declared: "This will confirm for many that the only problem with the New South is it occupies the same time and space as the Old South." He invoked the memory of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was killed in 1955 after supposedly whistling at a white woman "and whose murderers were acquitted." An article in The Washington Post drew parallels between this case and that of Emmett Till as well as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and the 1933 case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men accused of raping two white girls.
"Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem," the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnick, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, told a congregation once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Sanford, Florida, the Rev. Valerie J. Houston drew shouts of support and outrage at Allen Chapel A.M.E. as she denounced
. . . the racism and the injustice that pollute the air in America. Lord, I thank you for sending Trayvon to reveal the injustice, God, that lives in Sanford.
One of those organizing demonstrations against the verdict and promoting the idea that our society is little better than it was in the years of segregation is the Rev. Al Sharpton, always ready to pour fuel on a fire, and now provided by MSNBC with a nationwide pulpit. How many today remember Sharpton's history of stirring racial strife? In 1987, he created a media frenzy in the case of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager who claimed she was raped by a group of white police officers. A grand jury found Brawley had lied about the event in Wappingers Falls, New York and the case was dropped. The event which Sharpton used to indict our society for widespread racism never happened.
In 1991, Sharpton exacerbated tensions between blacks and Orthodox Jews in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. A three-day riot, fueled by Sharpton's inflammatory statements, erupted when a Guyanese boy died after being struck by a car driven by a Jewish man. At the boy's funeral, Sharpton complained about "diamond cutters" in the neighborhood in what a Brandeis University historian described as the most anti-Semitic incident in U.S. history. Two men died and three were critically injured before order was restored. Clearly, Al Sharpton does not come to a discussion of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case with clean hands.
Few of those urging demonstrations against the alleged "racism" in the jury verdict finding Mr. Zimmerman not guilty have spent very much time examining the law and the trial itself.
Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claimed that he shot Mr. Martin only after the teenager knocked him to the ground, punched him, straddled him and slammed his head into concrete. The murder charge required a showing that Zimmerman was full of "ill will, hatred, spite, or evil intent" when he shot Mr. Martin. But prosecutors had little evidence to back up that claim, according to most legal experts. They could point only to Zimmerman's words during his call to the police dispatcher the night he spotted Martin walking in the rain with his sweatshirt's hood up and grew suspicious. Zimmerman appeared calm during the call and did not describe Martin's race until he was asked.
Lawyers point to what they said were errors by the prosecution. The testimony of Officer Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department's chief investigator on the case, for example, told the jury he believed Zimmerman's account was truthful. Dr. Shiping Bao, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Martin, came across, legal experts report, befuddled, shuffling through his notes because he could remember very little. "It was horrific," said Richard Sharpstein, a prominent Miami criminal defense lawyer. "It was a deadly blow to this case because the case depended on forensic evidence to contradict or disprove George Zimmerman's story."
The performance was the opposite of that by Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist, who took the stand for the defense. Dr. Di Maio said the evidence and injuries to George Zimmerman were consistent with the defense's account, that Trayvon Martin was leaning over the defendant when he was shot. The evidence of Zimmerman's injuries may have helped his case, but it was not legally necessary. He needed to show only that he feared great bodily harm or death when he pulled out his gun, which he was carrying legally. "Classic self-defense," said his attorney.
It is quite different to have sympathy for the Martin family, to regret the incident or to be critical of Florida's laws about concealed weapons, or its "Stand Your Ground" law, that never entered the legal proceeding - than to argue that the law was not properly applied in this case. The prosecution failed to prove Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, hence, the non-guilty verdict.
Many black commentators regret that Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ben Jealous, and others have made this case about race. Columnist Armstrong Williams declares that:
. . . the Zimmerman case was not about race. Mr. Zimmerman is Hispanic, normally one of the protected minorities in America. In order to make the story about race, The New York Times and some other media outlets, called him a "white Hispanic" (his father is white and his mother of Peruvian heritage). When was the last time anybody in America heard a Hispanic called a "white Hispanic?" Calling Mr. Zimmerman a "white Hispanic" is like calling Adam Clayton Powell or Barack Obama a "white black." But the media needed to create hysterics and so injected race into the equation to make it more salable to the American people as a political circus. After all, who cares about two white men or two black men in a fight that results in death?
In Williams's view:
A young man was killed by another young man under circumstances where there is so much racial static in the background that it's difficult for many to be remotely objective. . . . Compare the reaction of the O.J. Simpson verdict by many American blacks to the reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal. In both cases the prosecution did not make its case beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. Yet blacks generally cheered the result in the Simpson case, while viewing the Zimmerman verdict as a travesty of justice. In our court system of trial by jury, you can't have it both ways. There cannot be a different standard for a white man killing a black man than for a black man killing a white man and a white woman.
Liberal columnist Richard Cohen writes that:
I don't like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize. I don't know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I'm tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the U.S. I am a racist.
Cohen argues that:
What Zimmerman did was wrong. It was not, by a verdict of his peers, a crime. Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem, and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of individual stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population yet they represent 78 percent of the shooting suspects - almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.
Those statistics represent the justification for New York's controversial stop-and-frisk program, which amounts to a kind of racial profiling. "After all," writes Cohen:
. . . if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk. Still, common sense and common decency, not to mention the law, insist on other variables, such as suspicious behavior. Even still, race is a factor without a doubt. It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.
Last year, the New York City Police Department recorded 419 homicides, nearly a 20 percent decrease from the year before and the lowest rate per 100,000 residents since the department began keeping statistics. If New York had the same homicide rate as Washington, D.C., it would be investigating 800 more murder cases for the year. If it had Detroit's statistics, nearly 4,000 more New Yorkers would be murdered every year.
Editorially, The Washington Post states that, "Without question, the Big Apple is doing something right." Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Chief Raymond Kelley say the stop-and-frisk policy has saved 5,000 lives in the past ten years. "New York has never been safer in its modern era," the mayor says.
The policy, of course, is controversial and is the subject of a federal action lawsuit because the vast majority of those stopped are young men of color. Mayor Bloomberg responds:
They keep saying, "Oh, it's a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group." That may be, but it's not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murders. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.
Expressing the anguish of many who hate all forms of racism, but are not prepared to turn a blind eye to the reality of urban crime, Richard Cohen concludes:
I wish I had a solution to this problem. If I were a young black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated. If the police are abusing their authority and using race as the only reason, that has got to stop. But if they ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.
Another liberal commentator, columnist Ruth Marcus, was particularly critical of those who compared Trayvon Martin with Emmett Till:
The comparison is unfair. No doubt race played a part in Martin's death. . . . But there is no evidence that race played a role in Zimmerman's acquittal. If anything, the racial undertones worked against Zimmerman, increasing public pressure on prosecutors to bring the most serious - and, in hindsight the most difficult to support - charges against him. Contrast the Zimmerman trial with that of Till's murderers. The courtroom was segregated. No hotel would rent rooms to black observers. The local sheriff welcomed black spectators to the courtroom with what was described as a cheerful use of the vilest racial epithets. The New South is not perfect, but it is not the Old.
What is rarely noted is the fact that the vast majority of the victims of young black men who kill are other young black men and women. Those engaged in calling for marches and vigils to express outrage over the verdict in the Zimmerman case say hardly a word about the black-on-black crime which plagues the nation's inner cities. In an interview with black journalist Juan Williams, comedian Bill Cosby noted that the NAACP's headquarters is in Baltimore, a city with one of the highest murder rates in the nation. "I've never once heard the NAACP say, "Let's do something about this," said Cosby, "They never marched or organized or even criticized the criminals."
The over-heated declarations that our current society is similar to that in which Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 - or in which the Scottsboro Boys were convicted in 1933 - turns reality on its head. Al Sharpton doesn't really believe it. Jesse Jackson knows it's untrue. Ben Jealous is unwilling to give up the public spotlight he receives by portraying such a false picture.
Those of us old enough to have lived through the years of segregation remember an era of segregated schools, segregated bus and train stations, "white" and "black" restrooms (visit the Pentagon and see the proliferation of rest rooms which were constructed in the years when it was illegal in Virginia for men and women of different races to use the same facilities), water fountains reserved for "whites" and "colored." In many parts of the country blacks could not vote or sit on juries. Black travelers never knew when they would be able to stop for a meal. There was no pretense that racial equality of any kind existed.
Today, we live in an imperfect society, but one in which all citizens, regardless of race, have equal rights. It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of race. Men and women can go as far as their individual abilities can take them. Black Americans hold every conceivable position in our society - from CEO of major corporations, to chief of police in major cities, to university president, to governor - to President of the United States.
None of this would be true if ours were indeed a "racist" society. This is not to say that in a society of more than 300 million people, examples of racism cannot sometimes be found. Using the trial of George Zimmerman to say that it is still 1933 or 1955, as some are now doing, is to paint a picture of contemporary society that cannot be recognized. When it comes to the status of race relations in America today, who are we going to believe, shrill voices such as Al Sharpton's, or our own eyes? The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case has brought out the worst in some. The rest of us must move resolutely forward, continuing on the path of creating a genuinely color-blind society, which has long been the goal of men and women of good will of all races.
The revelation that the U.S. Government is openly operating a massive surveillance program - with less oversight than previously thought - raises many questions. U.S. officials say that the program, known as Prism, which was revealed in the leaks by Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, was legal and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This gives the National Security Agency (NSA) the power to obtain e-mails and phone records relating to non-U.S. nationals, but details about the individuals targeted under the act remain secret.
Documents leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers claimed the government had direct access to the servers of major technology firms such as Apple and Google. According to Snowden, individual operatives had the power to tap into anyone's e-mails at any time.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the 29-year-old Snowden of "an act of treason." House Speaker John Boehner labeled Snowden a "traitor." He said: "The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it's a giant violation of the law."
Others - on both the right and left - have hailed Snowden as an idealistic "whistleblower." This is the position taken by, among others, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). The conservative Washington Times, expressing sympathy for Snowden, declared:
In a democracy, matters of widespread public interest are meant to be discussed and decided on by our elected representatives, and done in the open. . . . The latest revelations will have no pernicious effect because our enemies assume Uncle Sam has been listening. Al Qaeda operatives use codes, dead drops, and encryption to carry out attacks, such as the Boston bombings, under the nose of the mass surveillance. That's what spies and terrorists do. Google, Facebook, and the other companies play along, denying that the government is directly tapping into their servers. . . . Such extreme secrecy isn't about making sure that China or the Taliban never learn about U.S. surveillance capabilities, but about keeping ordinary Americans in the dark. . . . The Founding Fathers never would have entrusted power over such information to a handful of men. Neither should we.
Placing the merits of the government surveillance program aside, Snowden himself is hardly a hero. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret NSA documents, Snowden violated his explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed oaths he had voluntarily entered into. As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out:
He betrayed the Constitution. The Founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden unilaterally short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.
Beyond this, the question arises of why, in the span of three years, leakers at the lowest levels of the nation's intelligence ranks, gained access to large caches of classified material. The similarities between Snowden and Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army private on trial for sending hundreds of thousands of secret files to the WikiLeaks website, are clear.
In the case of Snowden, the fact that he was not a U.S. Government employee, but was an employee of a private company, focuses national attention on whether or not a company such as Booz Allen Hamilton should have access to the nation's top secret information. Is not the gathering and handling of intelligence an inherently governmental function?
Booz Allen Hamilton, which hired Snowden, a high school dropout, to work at the NSA, is a leader among more than 1,900 private firms that have supplied tens of thousands of intelligence analysts in recent years. According to The Washington Post:
. . . in the rush to fill jobs, the government has relied on faulty procedures to vet intelligence workers. . . . Intelligence officials, government auditors, and contracting specialists have warned for years that the vulnerability to spies and breaches was rising, along with contracting fraud and abyss.
When you increase the volume of contractors exponentially but you don't invest in the personnel necessary to manage and oversee that workforce, your exposure increases, said Steven Schooner, co-director of the government procurement law program at George Washington University. This is what happens when you have staggering numbers of people with access to this kind of information.
The reliance on contractors reflects a major shift toward outsourcing intelligence in the past 15 years. . . . Private contractors for the CIA recruited spies, protected CIA directors, helped snatch suspected extremists off the streets of Italy and interrogated suspected terrorists in secret prisons abroad.
Booz Allen Hamilton had $5.8 billion in revenue last year. Almost all of its work was for the government, nearly a quarter of that was for intelligence agencies.
By 2011, more than 4.2 million government and contract workers had security clearances and more than a third of them had top-secret access. A review by the Government Accountability Office found that of 3,500 security clearance reviews, almost 9 in 10 lacked documentation. Of those, nearly a quarter were still approved.
Glenn Voelz, an Army Intelligence officer previously assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, warned in 2009 "the rapid and largely unplanned integration of many non-governmental employees into the workforce presents new liabilities that have been largely ignored to this point."
Some say that outsourcing intelligence to private companies saves the government money. But Edward Snowdon, despite not having a college degree, made $200,000 a year. Booz Allen Hamilton Chairman Ralph W. Shrader was paid $1.2 million in base salary and a total of $3.1 million in fiscal 2012. Four named executive presidents had total pay packages in the range of $2 million to $3 million. Already, many are speaking of an "Intelligence Industrial Complex," echoing President Eisenhower's warning about the "Military Industrial Complex."
The revelations about the government surveillance programs present us with the opportunity for a free and open debate about how much secrecy is healthy in a democratic society - as well as whether the "inherently governmental" intelligence function should be performed by for-profit private companies, whose incentive structure is quite different from that of the CIA or the NSA.
Those of us concerned about the growth of government power - and the right to privacy - have every reason to be concerned. Those who seek to expand power and diminish freedom always have a variety of good reasons to set forth for their purposes. In the case of Olmstead vs. United States (1927), Justice Louis Brandeis warned that:
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment of men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.
Limiting our freedom in the interest of "national security" may at times be necessary. But doing so - in secrecy - and using private, profit-making companies to implement such a program seems inconsistent with our larger values. And, in theory, we are at peace. Congress has not declared war. Recently, a top Pentagon official said that the evolving war against al Qaeda was likely to continue "at least 10 to 20 years." Can our free society be on a war footing for decades, increasing government power to pursue it, without eroding our freedom? Before the recent leaks of classified material, few were asking such questions. Hopefully, a much needed national debate will now begin. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The national media, as we all know, has a penchant for scandal, the more gruesome the better.
Consider the case of Jodi Arias, the young woman on trial for murdering her boyfriend - allegedly inflicting 29 stab wounds, a slit throat and a shot to the head. She claims it was self-defense.
This case has saturated the media. Anderson Cooper seems to discuss it almost nightly on his CNN program. The cable network HLN airs a daily show entitled, "HLN After Dark: The Jodi Arias Trial." ABC News conducted a jailhouse interview with Arias and the case was featured on an episode of "48 Hours Mystery: Picture Perfect in 2008." Inside Edition also interviewed Arias at the Maricopa County, Arizona jail.
While the media has devoted itself to promoting the Arias trial, another trial was taking place in Philadelphia, with Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor, charged not with a single murder - as in the Arias case - but with killing seven newborn babies as well as a 41-year-old refugee from Nepal who was getting an illegal late-term abortion.
Dr. Gosnell is black and his clinic is in a minority neighborhood. Most of his victims were African-Americans. The facts of the case are shocking by any standard. Gosnell is accused of using unfathomable abortion procedures on his inner-city patients who were well into their third trimester at an unsanitary, bloody clinic called the Woman's Medical Society.
While he is only charged with killing seven live babies, prosecutors believe Gosnell killed hundreds of infants and destroyed related records, according to a grand jury report. During the trial, ex-clinic employee Steven Massof testified that he "snipped" babies'spinal cords to kill them after delivering them live. "It would rain fetuses," Massof said, according to NBC 10 Philadelphia. "Fetuses and blood all over the place."
Gosnell wasn't licensed to practice obstetrics and gynecology and illegally peddled painkillers during the day and murdered babies at night, according to the grand jury. In Feb. 2010, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies finally raided his facility, following reports that he had been writing illegal prescriptions. Here's what they found:
There was blood on the floor. A stench of urine in the air. A flea-infested cat was wandering through the facility, and there were cat feces on the stairs. Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners with blood-stained blankets.
On Jan. 31, 1998, a then 15-year-old Robyn Reid, in the company of her grandmother, sought an abortion from Gosnell's clinic. Once in the clinic, Reid, an 87-pound teenager, changed her mind. Gosnell ripped off her clothes and restrained the girl. When she regained consciousness 12 hours later at her aunt's home, she discovered that an abortion had been performed against her will.
According to the Media Research Center, there has been no network coverage of the Gosnell trial on ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC or PBS and only one brief mention on CNN [as of April 10].
It's unbelievable that Dr. Gosnell's trial for his actions inside his 'house of horrors' hasn't drawn one network story. . .
said the Media Research Center president Brent Bozell.
Forbes columnist Mike Ozanian said that the controversy surrounding Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice, who was shown in a video abusing players and using vulgar language during practice, had received far more attention than the Gosnell trial.
"What troubles me is why Rice and Rutgers deserve more attention from the media than the trial of doctor Kermit Gosnell," he said.
. . . How much of the story have you seen on the evening news? I bet not nearly as much as you have seen about Rice. Gosnell apparently made a fortune running a slaughterhouse.
The Washington Times notes that:
Not every murder trial receives prominent national coverage, but the Gosnell case would seem to contain all the ingredients of must-see television: a formerly respected community leader accused of unspeakable acts; the death of a young immigrant woman; a parade of former employees offering graphic testimony on the gruesome deaths of more than 100 just-born infants; and even the implication by the doctor's lawyers that the charges have been motivated by racism.
Perhaps a strange form of political correctness is at work here. Is there fear that publicizing this story would paint pro-choice advocates in a poor light? Is there a level of indifference to a story when both the victims and the perpetrator are black?
The trial is being covered by the Associated Press, and AP wire stories have appeared on network websites. The proceedings are also being covered by some religious websites, such as LifeNews.com, as well as newspapers and television in the Philadelphia and Delaware markets. Yet the story has been totally ignored by the national media [as of April 10].
Are Jodi Arias and Mike Rice really more interesting - and compelling - than the trial of Kermit Gosnell? Or is a strange manifestation of political correctness - and media bias - the real reason? The public is ill served if this is the case, as it certainly seems to be.
It is now ten years since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Based on false information about alleged weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. embarked upon a war with a country which had never attacked us, and which had nothing to do with 9/11. It was as if, some pointed out, after Pearl Harbor we launched an attack upon Mexico.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress acted irresponsibly. They passed a vague Authorization for Use of Military Force instead of the congressional declaration of war the Constitution requires. The media - liberals and conservatives alike - displayed willful credulity, never seeking independently to discover the truth.
Now, Iraq is in chaos. In 2010, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, formed a coalition government with parties representing Kurds and secular Sunnis. Since then, he has driven the Sunni Vice President into exile and the Sunni finance minister and Kurdish foreign minister no longer visit Baghdad. Iran's influence is growing. Iraq has been allowing Iran to fly weapons through its airspace to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Philip Carter, an Iraq veteran and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, notes that:
We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction on March 19, 2003, when the U.S. troops invaded. . . . The Bush administration compounded that error with its failure to admit the existence of the insurgency, let alone plan for it, and its failure to provide adequate resources. . . . Senior administration officials made matters worse with their arrogant statements about the war and the troops' plight - such as when then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz casually dismissed then-General Eric Shinseki's troop predictions as "wildly off the mark," or when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld glibly told troops scavenging for vehicle armor in Kuwait that "you go to war with the army you have."
Finally, voices are being heard questioning the aggressive use of American power abroad in the post-Cold War world, when who is an enemy is less than clear, and who is a friend is also uncertain. Republicans, who took the country to war in Iraq with the acquiescence of Democrats, seem particularly torn.
"A real challenge for the Republicans as they approach 2016 is what will be their brand?" said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former aide to the first President Bush. "The reason Rand Paul is gaining traction is overreaching in Iraq. What he is articulating. . . is an alternative."
The growing split in the Republican Party could be seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told the conference that the filibuster he conducted earlier in the month over the Obama administration's drone policy was aimed at the limits on presidential power and American power abroad. "No one person gets to decide the law," he said.
Neo-conservatives - the ones who led the country to war in Iraq and promoted the false notion of weapons of mass destruction in Baghdad - are concerned about voices such as Rand Paul. Dan Senor, the spokesman in Iraq for the Bush administration and a prominent neo-conservative voice, who now urges an attack on Iran, warned of a push to reorient the party toward a "neo-isolationist foreign policy. That policy, he said:
. . . is sparking discussion among conservative donors, activists, and policy wonks about creating a political network to support internationalist Republicans.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), another strong supporter of both the invasion of Iraq and a strike against Iran, another country that has not attacked us, has dismissed Sen. Paul and those who agree with him as "wacko birds." Other Republicans, however, have praised Paul and his filibuster. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined the filibuster. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party, said Paul was "able to capture some national attention in standing up to the president. My view is that he is an important voice in our party."
Sen. Paul calls himself a "realist," not a neoconservative - and not an isolationist. "This is a divide that has been festering and deepening for a generation," said Thomas Donnelly, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, says:
You are starting to see a bit of the split between the libertarian-leaning lawmakers and essentially what you see as defense hawks. We are a war-weary nation. While the GOP is still seen as the national defense party, what you are seeing is a rising trend of libertarianism. You are also seeing the Republican Party reset on where it is on national security. Essentially what the libertarians are saying is, "Hey, we have to be more careful about the future because we've just been through 10 years of war here."
Isolationism is a dangerous policy both for the U.S. and for the world, as is interventionism - especially based upon false premises, when U.S. interests and world peace are not directly involved.
Some neoconservatives are prepared to go to war haphazardly, as we did, at their urging, in Iraq, Embracing that philosophy has hardly proven wise - for the Republican Party or the country. But not taking a leadership role in the world is not a legitimate option for the U.S. It would make us - and the world - far less stable and secure.
As The Economist points out:
Not every problem is solved by America noisily taking charge. A sharper critique, as advanced in a new national-security strategy from the Project for a United and Strong America, a bipartisan group of ex-envoys and senior officials, compares the emerging world order to a fiercely competitive marketplace, in which Americans must invest, via engagement, to defend the open, rules-based international order vital to American interests.
With regard to the posture being taken by President Obama, The Economist argues that:
Speaking softly suits Mr. Obama. His desire to see other powers stop free riding on American security guarantees is understandable. In a world of shifting power balances, it is sensible to appeal to the self-interests of others, especially after the overreach of the Bush era. But he is taking a risk. Step back too far from big sticks, and when America speaks it may not be heard.
Finally - ten years after the misguided invasion of Iraq - a real debate seems to be starting about what America's role in the post-Cold War world should be. All of us will benefit from such a debate. It is long overdue.
Until recently, Dr. Benjamin Carson was highly regarded - and was widely promoted as a role model for African-American young people. Growing up in poverty in Detroit, he went to Yale and the University of Michigan Medical School, and at 33 became director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. He gained fame for a series of operations separating conjoined twins, complex procedures that did not always succeed. His 1996 autobiography, Gifted Hands, became a movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.
"He is one of the acknowledged leaders of pediatric neurosurgery," said Dr. Donlin Long, a retired chairman of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, who first brought Dr. Carson to the department.
In February, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, with President Obama in attendance, Carson criticized the Obama administration's health care overhaul. Later, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he was interrupted by sustained applause when he said, "Let's just say if you magically put me in the White House . . ."
Since then, he has been the victim of vitriolic attack, particularly from black liberal commentators who still find it difficult to understand that an individual's race has nothing to do with his political philosophy and how he views the world.
MSNBC's Toure Neblett declared that:
When you're publicly admitting your party doesn't care enough about black America, then it's time for a new black friend. Enter Dr. Ben Carson.
And Cynthia Tucker, formerly an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor and now at the University of Georgia's journalism school, said:
It's no wonder that conservatives have started to trumpet him as their Great Black Hope. Psychologists believe that romantic interest increases when people mirror each other's gestures. Carson perfectly reflects the beliefs of his suitors.
Commenting on the attacks upon him, Carson laments that:
That's what you can find on a third grade playground. White liberals are the most racist people there are . . . they put you in a little category, a little box. You have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?
In speeches and writings, Carson describes growing up with a divorced mother whose education stopped at the third grade and who worked two, and sometimes three jobs. The New York Times reports that:
He was teased as a "dummy" because his grades were so bad. But his mother insisted that he and an older brother turn off the television and read, writing weekly book reports that she could only feign understanding.
Dr. Carson says that he was a "flaming liberal" in college and became conservative through his own climb to success. "One thing I always believed strongly in was personal responsibility and hard work," he said. "I found the Democrat Party leaving me behind on that particular issue."
With his wife Candy, Carson founded the Carson Scholars Fund, which awards $1,000 to students to help pay for college and has endowed Ben Carson Reading Rooms at schools that serve disadvantaged students. He belongs to a Seventh Day Adventist Church and draws on the Bible's description of tithing to argue in favor of a flat tax. He advocates an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Most people, he believes, could pay most of their medical bills through health savings accounts, with the government making the contributions for the poor.
One need not agree with any of Ben Carson's political views to recognize that an individual's opinion on public issues reflects that individual's considered judgment - not his race. Black Americans are as diverse in their views as are Americans of other races.
John McWhorter, a respected black academic, notes that:
. . . while Democrats seem to think they have the lock on racial enlightenment, it is actually often Republicans who have the larger understanding of what it is to assess people according to the content of their character. Take affirmative action, for example. To proclaim that it's okay to evaluate black and Latino college applicants partly on grades but also on their contribution to "diversity" - while white and Asian students are required to just put up or shut up - is racist.
In McWhorter's view:
That kind of policy makes sense only as a temporary fix, which is what it should always have been. However, to then slide into the idea that race-based admissions must continue until racism doesn't exist (i.e., never) is to essentially assert that blacks and Latinos are the world's first humans to require perfect conditions to succeed. That's racist, and the right understands that.
In fact, black conservatism is nothing new. It goes back to Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington through George Schuyler and Max Yergan - and more recently Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams - and a host of distinguished men and women committed to the principles of individual freedom and a genuinely color-blind society.
The current assault on Ben Carson is an attempt to stifle free speech and diversity within the black community. What some self-proclaimed civil rights spokesmen seem to fear is that Ben Carson and other black conservatives will expose them as speaking only for themselves and misrepresenting the constituency in whose name they repeatedly - and falsely - speak.
Free speech for Ben Carson, whatever one thinks of his views, should not be a controversial proposition.
Americans used to frequently quote Voltaire's declaration that, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." That is no longer the case at too many of our colleges and universities.
What some have called the "heckler's veto" has been one factor limiting free speech. Nat Hentoff once pointed out that:
First Amendment law is clear that everyone has the right to picket a speaker, and to go inside a hall and heckle him or her - but not to drown out the speaker, let alone rush the stage and stop the speech before it starts. That's called the "heckler's veto."
Now, even a hint of vocal opposition to a speaker seems to be enough to eliminate the possibility of that speaker being heard.
Recently, two respected individuals who were invited to be commencement speakers at Johns Hopkins University and Swarthmore College withdrew in the face of opposition from some vocal students.
In the case of Swarthmore, Robert Zoellick, an alumnus and former president of the World Bank, accepted and then turned down an invitation, after students objected to his support of the Iraq war and his record at the World Bank.
Zoellick, an official in George W. Bush's administration, withdrew after students started a campaign on Facebook calling him "an architect of the Iraq war" and a "war criminal." In fact, while Zoellick did support the war, he had no role in planning it. He was Bush's U.S. trade representative and later worked to resolve the conflict in Darfur as a State Department official. He ran the World Bank from 2007 until 2012.
As the attacks on Zoellick grew, Swarthmore's student paper, the Daily Gazette, mocked the political correctness that characterized the controversy. On April Fool's Day, it wrote that the school "would not be offering degrees to any member of the Class of 2013 who does not plan to found a vegan coffee shop after graduation," calling other professional choices "antithetical to Swarthmore values."
In the case of Johns Hopkins, Dr. Ben Carson, the world-renowned Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, withdrew as commencement speaker after controversy over his statement in opposition to gay marriage, in which he lumped homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality, for which he later apologized twice. He said he withdrew because:
My presence is likely to distract from the true celebratory nature of the day. Commencement is about the students and their successes, and it is not about me.
Josh Wheeler, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia, notes that:
Overall, there seems to be an increased sensitivity to things in the past we might have let roll off our backs. Nowadays, people aren't afraid to express their objections, which isn't a bad thing, but people are more willing to censor [speech] to remove the offending speech or language.
Wheeler calls this phenomenon the "heckler's veto," the ability of a small but vocal group to limit the choices of a much larger majority. He argues that:
We shouldn't ignore [protest] but at the same time to allow a minority to determine what we see or hear is very concerning from a free-speech point of view. Too often, it's easier to eliminate the problem than deal with the controversy.
Many public figures - with a variety of points of views - have been treated in a similar manner. Former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin faced protests from students and controversy over her fees when she was invited to speak at California State University-Stanislaus in 2010, but she went ahead with her appearance. There were weeks of protest by anti-abortion advocates preceding President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame University in 2010. In April, protests flared at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law after it gave its "International Advocate for Peace Award" to former President Jimmy Carter. Some alumni called on the school's graduates to withdraw their financial support to protest Carter's criticism of Israel.
In March 2006, in violation of its own policies, New York University refused to allow a student group to show the controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed at a public event. Even though the purpose of the event was to show and discuss the cartoons, an administrator suddenly ordered the students either not to display them or to exclude 150 off-campus guests from attending. "NYU's actions are inexcusable," declared Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education (FIRE).
The very purpose of this event is to discuss the cartoons that are at the center of a global controversy. To say that students cannot show them if they wish to engage anyone outside the NYU community is both chilling and absurd. The fact that expression might provoke a strong reaction is a reason to protect it, not an excuse to punish it.
Lukianoff declared that:
This is a classic case of the heckler's veto. NYU is shamelessly clamping down on an event purely out of fear that people who disagree with the viewpoints expressed may disrupt it.
Beyond the heckler's veto, many universities have adopted speech codes to suppress speech that others find offensive. Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate, in their work "The Shadow University" (1998), refer to a number of cases where speech codes have been used by universities to suppress academic freedom, as well as freedom of speech.
In one case they describe, the so-called "water buffalo" incident at the University of Pennsylvania, a freshman faced expulsion when he called African-American sorority members who were making substantial amounts of noise and disturbing his sleep during the middle of the night "water buffalo" (the charged student claimed not to intend discrimination, as the individual in question spoke the modern Hebrew language and the term "water buffalo" or "behema" in modern Hebrew, is slang for a rude of disturbing person. Moreover, water buffalo are native to Asia rather than Africa). Some saw the statement as racist while others simply saw it as a general insult. The college eventually dropped the charge, amid national criticism.
Texas Tech had a speech code which prohibited "insults," "ridicule," and "personal attacks" and restricted free speech to a 20-foot diameter gazebo referred to as a "Free Speech Zone."
In Sept. 2012, Christopher Newport University in Virginia forbade students to protest an appearance by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate. Students must apply 10 days in advance to demonstrate in the college's tiny "free speech zone" - and Ryan's visit was announced on a Sunday - two days before his Tuesday visit.
In a study of 392 campus speech codes, FIRE found 65 percent of colleges had policies "that in our view violated the Constitution's guarantee of free speech."
Incoming Harvard freshmen were pressured by campus officials to sign an oath promising to act with "civility" and "inclusiveness" and affirming that "kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment." Harry R. Lewis, a computer science professor and former dean of Harvard College, said:
For Harvard to "invite" people to pledge themselves to kindness is unwise, and sets a terrible precedent. It is a promise to control one's thoughts.
In 2009, Yale banned students from making t-shirts with an F. Scott Fitzgerald Quotation - "I think of Harvard men as sissies" - from his 1920 novel This Side Of Paradise - to mock Harvard at their annual football game. The t-shirt was blocked after some gay and lesbian students argued that "sissies" amounted to a homophobic slur. "What purports to be humor by targeting a group through slurs is not acceptable," said Mary Miller, a professor of art history and the dean of Yale College.
Recently, two gay activists at George Washington University demanded that the Rev. Gregory Shaffer, a Catholic chaplain, be fired because he supports his church's teachings about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
A 2010 study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities of 24,000 college students and 9,000 faculty and staff members found that only 35.6 percent of the students and only 18.5 per cent of the faculty and staff strongly agreed that it was "safe to hold unpopular positions on campus."
With speech codes and the heckler's veto - the First Amendment seems to be increasingly endangered on the nation's campuses. Voltaire would weep. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
In the 1960s, the term "imperial presidency" became popular and served as the title of a 1973 volume by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., to describe the growing centralization of power in the modern chief executive.
Things have progressed a great deal since those days. Who ever would have thought that a president of the United States would arrogate to himself the power to kill American citizens - without a trial or judicial finding of any kind, making himself, in effect, judge, jury and executioner?
Yet, this appears to be the power now claimed by President Obama. The confirmation hearing for John Brennan as director of the CIA has produced a much-needed discussion of the Obama administration's counterterrorism policy. It also shows that President Obama's claims of executive power are different from the views he expressed about George Bush's counterterrorism policies.
Early in his first term, Obama rejected the protests of the CIA and ordered the public disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions on interrogation and torture that had been written in the Bush administration. In the case of his own Justice Department's legal opinions on assassination and the "targeted killing" of terrorism suspects, however, Obama has taken a different approach. Though he entered office promising the most transparent administration in history, he has refused to make those opinions public, notably one that justified the 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed an American, Anwar el-Awlaki. His administration has withheld them even from the Senate and House Intelligence committees.
Now, with the disclosure of a Justice Department document offering a detailed legal analysis of the targeted killings of Americans - similar to the leaks of interrogation memos in 2004 under President Bush, public discussion about whether and when a president can order the execution of a citizen based on secret intelligence and without a trial has finally emerged.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been consistent. It was harshly critical of Bush administration interrogation policies and now calls the Obama material "chilling." Amnesty International has also been consistent, saying there is increasing evidence that administration practices were "unlawful, violating the fundamental human right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one s life."
Republicans and Democrats, with a few rare exceptions such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), have not been quite as consistent. Democrats who criticized Bush interrogation policies, now support Obama's targeted killing. And Republicans, who defended the Bush policies, are now criticizing those of the current president. Unfortunately, the philosophy of "my party, right or wrong" seems to dominate much of congressional thinking.
According to the White Paper, the Constitution and the Congressional authorization for the use of force after the attacks of 9/11 gave the president the right to kill any American citizen that an "informed, high-level official" decides is a "senior operational leader of al Qaeda or an associated force" and presents an "imminent threat of violent attack."
Yet, it never defines who an "informed, high level official" might be and the authors of the memo have redefined the word "imminent" in a way that diverges from its customary meaning.
Anwar al-Awlaki was clearly a dangerous and deadly figure. He had become a leader of the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was believed to be directly involved in the near-miss "underwear bomber" plot to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day 2009, as well as planting two bombs on Chicago-bound cargo planes in 2010. Still, the fact remains that U.S. citizens have constitutional rights. Do we really want one man - the president - to be able to decide that those rights no longer apply?
Awlaki was certainly a legitimate target. But it should take more than the president or a "high level official" to make the judgment without appropriate judicial oversight. When the government wants to invade a citizen's right to privacy with wiretaps and other forms of electronic surveillance, a judge from a special panel - the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) - has to give approval. There should be at least as much judicial review when it comes to taking a life. It is not difficult to imagine a future president extending the power to kill Americans to U.S. soil. All it would take would be to label a group as "domestic terrorists."
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney expressed agreement with much of what President Obama has done with his powers as chief executive, including an embrace of the president's claim to sole authority to expand drone strikes to kill terrorists abroad. Expressing little interest in Congress' role in declaring war, Romney reserved for the president the right to deploy U.S. military power to world hot spots and to engage in unilateral action against Iran. He supported President Obama's position on indefinite detention of U.S. citizens deemed "enemy combatants" who, the administration argues, are not entitled to habeas corpus.
Republicans and Democrats, it seems, are united in embracing the Imperial Presidency we now have. This is a clear contradiction to the American political tradition of constitutional government, checks and balances, and division of powers. The written and spoken words of the men who launched our nation give us numerous examples of their fear and suspicion of unchecked centralized power. Samuel Adams asserted that:
There is a degree of watchfulness over all men possessed of power or influence upon which the liberties of mankind depend. It is necessary to guard against the infirmities of the best as well as the wickedness of the worst of men.
Therefore, he declared, "Jealousy is the best security of public liberty."
James Madison argued that checks and balances are an essential bulwark for liberty; by setting branch against branch, the structure of our government minimizes encroachments on fundamental rights. Today, the separation of powers is hard to find, as the Imperial Presidency grows. Perhaps the concern over a president acting as judge, jury, and executioner will cause increasing numbers of Americans to rethink their support for such unbridled power in the hands of the chief executive.
It has been a decade since the first strike by an armed U.S. drone killed an al Qaeda leader and five associates in Yemen. Since then, there have been approximately 500 "targeted killing" drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia - countries where the U.S. is not fighting a conventional war.
Weaponized drones have produced results. They have eliminated 22 of al Qaeda's top 30 leaders. They lessen the need to send our troops into harm's way, reducing the number of U.S. casualties.
The costs of drone strikes have received less attention. The numbers of innocent civilians killed are far greater than the number of terrorists killed. A recent study connected by Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law, found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported, at least 700 people since 2004, including 200 children.
In Djibouti, a small state on the Gulf of Aden, the U.S. has turned a former French Foreign Legion outpost, Camp Lemonnier, into the most important base for drone operations outside the war zone of Afghanistan. An investigation by The Washington Post found that Predator drones take off round the clock on missions over nearby Somalia and Yemen. Their pilots are in Creech, at an Air Force hub 8,000 miles away in Nevada.
It is President Obama himself who approves a "kill list" of targets, one of whom has been a U.S. citizen, radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, until a drone killed him. In this - and other - cases, as conservative columnist Timothy Carney points out, "Obama was the judge and jury. Obama's drones were the executioners."
Both Republicans and Democrats have embraced this use of drones, and the almost unprecedented power given to the president to determine who is worthy of execution, even U.S. citizens who, under the Constitution, have a right to be charged and tried in a court of law.
Critics, on both the left and right, are expressing concern about this unprecedented executive power.
Kurt Volker, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush and is now executive director of the McCain Institute at Arizona State University, argues that drones have made killing too easy:
What do we want to be as a nation? A country with a permanent kill list? A country where people go to the office, launch a few kill shots, and get home in time for dinner? A country that instructs workers in high-tech operations centers to kill human beings on the far side of the planet because some government agency determined that those individuals are terrorists?
In Volker s view:
In establishing a long-term approach, a good rule of thumb might be that we should authorize drone strikes only if we would be willing to send in a pilot or soldier to do the job if a drone were not available. . . . More people have been killed in drone attacks than were incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. . . . This is not to say that the U.S. should never use drones for targeted attacks. We should. But we should also be creating standards and practices that are entirely defensible, even - and perhaps especially - if others were to adopt them.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) believes that:
Congress must require an independent judicial review of any executive branch kill list. The U.S. legal system is based on the principle that one branch of government should not have absolute authority. Congress should object to that concentration of power, especially when it may be used against U.S. citizens. A process of judicial review would diffuse executive power and provide a mechanism for greater oversight.
Beyond this is the question of the use of drones within the U.S. itself. While domestic drones are now uncommon, the Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that within 20 years, 30,000 commercial and government drones could be flying in U.S. skies.
Drones could be equipped with surveillance technologies to identify people or license plates. "In the near future," report researchers at the Congressional Research Service:
. . . law enforcement organizations might seek to outfit drones with facial recognition or soft biometric recognition, which can recognize and track individuals based on attributes such as height, age, gender and skin color.
Analyzing past court cases, the researchers conclude that police would likely have to obtain a search warrant to use nano drones or heat-sensing imaging to spy on people within their homes. But the report says that it is unclear how courts will treat drone surveillance of a person's backyard, swimming pool, deck or porch.
Lawmakers have already introduced several bills to limit how police could use drones to gather information. Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act to require that police obtain a warrant in most circumstances before using drones.
"The current state of the law is inadequate to address the threat, as drone technology becomes cheaper, the threat to privacy will become more substantial," says Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
At the present time, unmanned aerial vehicles - drones - are used only by the military and law enforcement agencies. They are to become available for personal and commercial use as early as September 2015, raising new concerns. "Drones operated by private entities open new doors to spying, harassment, and stalking," says Stepanovich.
The New York Times notes that:
The idea of watchful drones buzzing overhead like Orwellian gnats may seem far-fetched to some. But Congress, in its enthusiasm for a new industry, should guarantee the strongest protection of privacy under what promises to be a galaxy of new eyes in the sky.
The questions which are being asked about the use of drones at the present time abroad - and in the future at home - are being asked by only a handful of conservatives and liberals concerned about the potential abuse of executive power and a potential threat to privacy. Most Republicans and most Democrats have been strangely silent on the subject. It is high time that we had a real national conversation about how to apply our traditional values to this new technology before things get even further out of hand.
In December, Congress received good or excellent marks for its job performance from only 9 percent of likely U.S. voters. This is the lowest approval rating in 38 years of polling.
Despite the low esteem in which it is held, Congress continues to do business in exactly the same self-serving way that has led to its declining reputation. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans.
In January, the "fiscal cliff" bill passed by Congress contained a windfall for lobbyists, extending supports for Puerto Rican rum distillers, Hollywood studios, tribal-lands coal, electric-scooter makers, and other corporate interests that Congress will subsidize through the tax code into the future.
One such windfall is the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy. Extending the decades-old subsidy will cost more than $12 billion through 2022, according to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. Even the wind industry agreed in December that, after two decades of direct assistance, Congress should set the PTC to phase out by 2019. The only change Congress made was to make the subsidy more generous.
The "cliff" bill also extended the 2008 farm bill, which The Washington Post described as "a monstrous money-waster." Or consider another congressional action in January, when Senators who play a major role in healthcare financing helped Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology company, evade Medicare cost-cutting controls by delaying price restraints on a class of drugs used by kidney dialysis patients, including Sensipar, a drug made by Amgen. Amgen has 74 lobbyists in Washington and pushed aggressively for this provision. The delay will cost the Medicare program up to $500 million over a two-year period. Those who pushed this delay on price restraints were Senators Max Baucus (D-Montana), who leads the Senate Finance Committee, and Orin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking Republican on the committee. The current lobbyists for Amgen include former chiefs of staff for both Senators Baucus and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). A top aide to Mr. Hatch, who was involved in the negotiations, worked as a health policy analyst for Amgen.
In mid-January, about a dozen members of Congress gathered in New York to discuss, among other things, "Why does America hate us?" Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) asked: "Did you hear about the poll? Congress is now rated slightly above or below cockroaches and colonoscopies." (Actually, it was below.)
"We are incentivized to do crazy things," said Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), who pointed out how angry diatribes delivered on the House floor made celebrities out of lawmakers.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) noted that each party ignores the truth when it does not suit its purpose. "Congress is a fact-free zone," he declared.
Congress, we often fail to understand, responds to the incentive structure we have established. This was explained very well by Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan, who died at the age of 93 in January.
Dr. Buchanan, who taught at George Mason University, was a leading proponent of public choice theory, which assumes that politicians and government officials, like everyone else, are motivated by self-interest - getting reelected or gaining more power - and do not necessarily act in the public interest.
He argued that their actions could be analyzed, and even predicted, by applying the tools of economics to political science in ways that yield insights into the tendencies of governments to grow, increase spending, borrow money, run large deficits, and let regulations proliferate.
It was Buchanan's view that the pursuit of self-interest by modern politicians often leads to harmful results. Courting voters, for example, legislators will approve tax cuts and spending increases for projects and entitlements favored by the electorate. This leads to ever-rising deficits, public debt burdens, and increasingly large governments.
Buchanan accurately forecast that deficit spending for short-term gains would evolve into a "permanent disconnect" between government outlays and revenue. No matter which party is in power, as he predicted, government power - and deficits continue to grow.
Because Congress refuses to eliminate non-germane amendments to key pieces of legislation, special interests are regularly rewarded. In the relief bill for Superstorm Sandy, such amendments included: $25 million to improve weather and hurricane intensity forecasting; $118 million for Northeast Corridor upgrades; $10 million for FBI salaries and expenses; $2 billion for Federal Highway Administration to spend on roads across the country, and $16 billion for the Community Development Fund that would go not only to Sandy-effected states, but to any major disaster declarations since 2011.
While some of these items may be worthy recipients of federal money, they should be subject to the normal budgetary process and not inserted into a bill designed to help victims of the mega-storm which ripped through parts of the eastern United States in October.
Congress, it is safe to say, will continue doing business as usual until we change the incentive structure we have created. Only 9 percent of Americans may have a favorable view of Congress, but incumbents usually have little trouble being re-elected, in the largely one-party districts that state legislatures have gerrymandered in their behalf. As long as we permit this incentive structure to continue, we should prepare ourselves for more of the same.
Many of the social problems we face - from poor academic achievement levels, to teenage pregnancy, to drug use and crime - cannot be properly understood without considering the impact of the absence of fathers in more and more homes.
At the present time, 15 million American children, or 1 in 3, live without a father. In every state, the portion of families where children have two parents, rather than one, has dropped significantly over the past decade. Even as the country added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. In Baltimore, 38 percent of families have two parents. In St. Louis, the portion is 40 percent.
The problem is particularly acute in the black community, although those who point this out are usually shunned as being politically incorrect. Among blacks, nearly 5 million children, or 54 percent, live only with their mother.
A report from the Institute for American Values notes that over the past fifty years "the percentage of black families headed by married couples declined from 78 percent to 34 percent." In the thirty years from 1950 to 1980, households headed by black women who never married jumped from 3.8 per thousand to 69.7 per thousand.
"For policymakers who care about black America, marriage matters," wrote the authors, a group of black scholars. They called marriage in black America an important strategy for "improving the well-being of African-Americans and for strengthening civil society."
In his book Enough, the respected black journalist Juan Williams points out that:
The answer to the question of how to create opportunities for the poor is to get them to take school seriously - to set high academic expectations for their children and to insist on high expectations from teachers in good schools. It is also a personal matter of self-control that begins with understanding the power of the family and putting love, romance, and children (as well as knowing how to be good parents) in their proper order.
Linda Chavez, the former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, argues that the "chief cause of poverty today among blacks is no longer racism - it is the breakdown of the traditional family."
Those who make this point, Juan Williams laments, are often accused of "blaming the poor." He states:
They say this answer puts pressure on the poor. They say this with a straight face, even though nearly 70 percent of black children are born to single women, damning a high number of them to poverty, bad schools, and bad influences. They say this knowing that in 1964, in a far more hostile and racist America, 82 percent of black households had both parents in place and close to half of those households owned a business.
President Obama himself made this point in a 2008 Father's Day speech in Chicago:
If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers are . . . missing . . . from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weakening because of it. You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single parent households, a number that has doubled since we were children.
Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime. They are nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
The Urban Institute finds that the percent of black women who are married declined from 53 percent to 25 percent over the past half century. Marriage is declining among whites and Hispanics as well, although less dramatically. The drop in marriage for white women in the past half century has been from 65 percent to 52 percent, and among Hispanic women from 67 percent to 43 percent.
A recent Department of Education study shows that a child's grades were more closely correlated to how many times the father came to a school event than any other factor. Children with involved fathers measure as having higher IQs by age three, higher self-esteem, and in the case of daughters, grow up to be less promiscuous.
A new study from the University of Virginia and the Institute for American Values, "The State of Our Unions," tracks the decline of marriage among Americans of all races who have high school but not college educations. By one estimate cited in the report, which was written by five family scholars, the cost to taxpayers when stable families fail to form is about $112 billion annually - or more than $1 trillion per decade.
In the 1980s, only 13 percent of children were born outside of marriage among moderately educated mothers. By 2010, the number had risen to 44 percent. The lead author of the new study, Elizabeth Marquardt, writes:
Marriage is not merely a private arrangement; it is also a complex social institution. Marriage fosters small cooperative unions - also known as stable families - that enable children to thrive, shore up communities, and help family members to succeed during good times, and to weather the bad times. Researchers are finding that the disappearance of marriage in Middle America is tracking with the disappearance of the middle class in the same communities, a change that strikes at the very heart of the American Dream.
We ignore the absence of fathers in a growing number of families and the decline of marriage itself at our peril. When, in 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his report about the alarming rise of African American children born out of wedlock, it set off a major national discussion, The latest findings - equally disturbing and reflecting trends among Americans of all races - are being largely ignored. This may tell us a lot about the strange set of priorities that dominates what passes for public discourse. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
On the brink of the so-called "fiscal cliff," the House voted 257-167 to approve the Senate bill that would avoid major tax hikes and spending cuts. In response, the stock market soared. What went largely unremarked was the fact that neither Republicans nor Democrats made any effort to confront the real financial challenges that lie ahead. As we seem repeatedly to say when it comes to Congress dealing with the problems facing the nation, "they kicked the can down the road."
What we face - and no one in Washington seems prepared to confront - are massive structural deficits as the baby boomers start to retire in large numbers.
In 1900, 1 in 25 Americans was over the age of 65. In 2030, 17 years from now, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65. Because we have many programs that provide guaranteed benefits to the elderly, this has major budgetary implications.
In 1960, there were about five working Americans for every retiree. By 2025, there will be just over two workers per retiree. In 1975, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid made up 25 percent of federal spending. Today, they add up to 40 percent. Within a decade, these programs will take over half of all federal outlays.
We have postponed the problem by borrowing heavily for decades. Our debt stands at 100 percent of GDP. Federal spending on everything other than entitlements, defense, and interest on the debt has been shrinking for many years. A recent report from the National Governors, Association points out that Medicaid is now the single largest item on state budgets and has grown by over 20 percent for each of the past two years.
This trend is escalating. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation calculates, using Congressional Budget Office numbers, that by 2040 we are likely to spend 10 percent of the GDP on interest payments alone - versus 1.4 percent today.
Congress and President Obama set up the artificial "fiscal cliff" scenario that would, allegedly, force them to do the right thing. Completely ignored, however, were the deep structural reforms that will eventually be needed.
Casting the budget problem as a question of whether the richest 1 or 2 percent of the population should pay more taxes is avoiding the real issues before us. The real problem we face is the bipartisan promises made to Americans of both high government benefits and low taxes at the same time. This may be democracy at work. Most Americans may want high benefits and low taxes. No one in Washington seems prepared to tell them the hard truth - that we cannot afford benefits we are unwilling to pay for.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts it this way:
With the population aging and healthcare costs per person likely to keep growing faster than the economy, the U.S. cannot sustain the federal spending programs that are now in place with the federal taxes as a share of GDP that it has been accustomed to paying.
Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson faults both parties for the situation we face:
The main reason that we keep having these destructive and inconclusive budget confrontations is not simply that many Republicans have been intransigent on taxes. The larger cause is that Obama refuses to concede that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are driving future spending and deficits. So when Republicans make concessions on taxes (as they have), they get little in return. . . . Just as many Republicans don't want to raise taxes a penny, many Democrats don't want benefits cut a penny.
One reasonable example is the proposal to shift the standard consumer price index (CPI) to a "chained" CPI to adjust Social Security benefits. From 2013 to 2022, this change is estimated to reduce Social Security spending by $100 billion. Over that decade, total Social Security benefits are estimated at trillions, but the cut would be a tiny percentage. Yet, Democrats in Congress rejected any serious consideration of this proposal.
As the population ages and health care costs soar, to avoid the country sinking into debilitating debt, revenue must rise and spending - particularly on Medicare, Social Security. Medicaid and military healthcare - must be brought under control. No solution that pleases extremists on either side - those who reject any increase in revenue and those who oppose any decrease in benefits - has, at this time, any chance of becoming law.
One thoughtful member of Congress, Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) voted against the "fiscal cliff" deal because it did not have any meaningful deficit reduction. He said:
Going over the cliff is a lousy choice and continuing to ignore the fiscal realities that we face is a lousy choice. . . . The burden of proof has to shift from the people who want to change the system to the people who want to keep it the same. I think if we can get people focused to do what we need to do to keep our kids from being stuck with this debt that they didn't accrue, you might be surprised at how far we can move this conversation.
Senator Bennet laments that:
Washington politics no longer follows the example of our parents and our grandparents who saw as their first job creating more opportunities, not less, for the people who came after them. . . . The political debate now is a zero sum game that creates more problems than solutions.
Unfortunately, things will probably have to get worse than they are at the present time before either Democrats or Republicans will begin to make the hard decisions necessary to set our society on a sustainable economic path for the future. Real leadership is hard to discover in today's Washington.
The fact that our government is increasingly out of control is becoming clear to more and more Americans. We continue to embark upon huge new public programs that, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with their merits, we refuse to pay for. How long can any society continue to spend well beyond its means without dire consequences? Eventually, if things continue on their present trajectory, we will see.
The tendency to spend without raising funds to pay the bills continues whichever party is in power. Current discussion of a "fiscal cliff" does not confront the reality of politicians of both parties busy subsidizing the variety of special interest groups from which they raise money to attain office. As many have said, "We have the best Congress money can buy."
The Founding Fathers, if they suddenly arrived in contemporary America, would be disappointed with what they saw. But it is unlikely that they would be surprised. They were, after all, thoughtful students of human nature, and how it influences the nature of the government under which we live.
Many things have changed in society. The Framers of the Constitution could never have foreseen the creation of automobiles, airplanes, television, computers, cell phones and other elements of our modern life. But while things around us have undergone dramatic change, what has remained the same is man himself.
Human nature, for better or worse, is unchanged. If this were not true, we could not, in the 21st century, identify with the writings of Plato or Aristotle, or the characters in Shakespeare. The teachings of Moses and Jesus are as relevant to modern man as they ever were.
The Founding Fathers were not utopians. They understood man's nature. They attempted to form a government that was consistent with, not contrary to, that nature. Alexander Hamilton pointed out that:
Here we have already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories that have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses, and evils incident to society in every shape. Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?
Rather than viewing man and government in positive terms, the framers of the Constitution had almost precisely the opposite view. John Adams declared that, "Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it must presume that all men are bad by nature." As if speaking to those who place ultimate faith in egalitarian democracy, Adams attempted to learn something from the pages of history.
We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power. . . . All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continued vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions. . . . The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally bloody, arbitrary, cruel, and in every respect diabolical.
That government should be clearly limited and that power is a corrupting force was the essential perception of the men who made the nation. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote:
It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Yes, if the Founding Fathers arrived in Washington tomorrow, they would be disappointed - but they would not be surprised.
The official national debt of $16 trillion is growing at the rate of $4 billion a day. This, together with what the government owes its various trust funds, is more than 100 percent of gross domestic product. The state's debts are about $3 trillion, and their unfunded liabilities are approximately another $4 trillion. "Debts of this magnitude," says Michael Greve, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, "will not be paid. . . . Our politics aims at inspiration on the cheap.''
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the few members of Congress who appears serious about cutting unnecessary spending, points out that for the past two years the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has shown Congress more than $200 billion in duplicative spending alone. There are, for example, 47 job-training programs across nine agencies that cost $18 billion but are not producing results. GAO found dozens of other areas of costly duplication that if streamlined could improve outcomes while saving money.
GAO identified 209 federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs run by 13 federal agencies, costing taxpayers more than $3 billion annually. According to Sen. Coburn:
Duplication is only part of the problem. Our budget is full of outrageous examples of waste and mismanagement. For instance, our government has borrowed $20 million from future generations in order to send millionaires unemployment checks. Funds meant to help agencies coordinate intelligence and counterterrorism efforts at the Department of Homeland Security "fusion centers" have been spent on flat-screen TVs, SUVs for personal use, and intelligence that has been described as useless and irrelevant. What Washington is lacking is not options for savings but the political courage to make specific decisions. Millions of families and individuals in America are already living in the world of hard decisions and priorities. It's long past time for Washington politicians to join them.
Often, politicians speak of cutting spending and tax breaks that, in reality, amount to savings of very little money. Mitt Romney and Big Bird is one example. And President Obama declared that, "I want to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs and factories overseas." He discussed this in his "economic patriotism" ad. Conservative columnist Timothy Carney provided this assessment:
Sounds fine, but what is he actually talking about? Not much, it turns out. One expense businesses incur is moving labor or equipment to new locations. Obama is proposing that the cost of moving facilities out of the U.S. shouldn't be deductible. Those costs should be part of the company's profits. This targeted tax penalty would raise $14 million per year, or 0.0005 percent of the federal budget, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Neither party speaks of reigning in expensive government programs of subsidies for corporations or agriculture. Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, writes that:
The big winner of the three presidential debates is government spending. Mitt Romney singled out only a few small programs that he thinks are ripe for cutting. President Obama stayed away from any specifics. . . . But the present levels of spending are not an option. . . . Everything has to be on the table. . . . The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet for balancing the budget. We didn't get in this fiscal mess overnight, and it will take us some time to get out of it.
Clearly, everything should be put on the table - including the Pentagon, which consumes 18 percent of the federal budget. Thus far, however, politicians of both parties seem unwilling to consider cutting programs that have strong constituencies. At the present time, 30 cents of every dollar government spends is borrowed. With the coming explosion in programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - not to mention President Obama's new health care program - we will be drowning in debt.
How bad do things have to get before our politicians begin to pay real attention? Thus far, there are no good answers to this question.
In the past presidential campaign, there had been much discussion about those who receive one form or another of government assistance and the need to reduce such aid.
The government aid we seem to focus upon is that received by those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, such as food stamps.
While it is certainly proper to review all forms of government assistance, it is surprising that neither Republicans nor Democrats have had much - if anything - to say about corporate welfare. For politicians who have bailed out Wall Street and the auto industry - and who subsidize many others - to focus all of their attention on forms of government aid other than that for corporations tells us a great deal about how our current politics avoids the real problems we face. Perhaps it would be different if both parties were not so busy raising campaign funds from the very people they subsidize.
A recent Cato Institute study finds that federal business subsidies total almost $100 billion annually. This includes subsidies to small businesses, large corporations and industry organizations. The subsidies come from programs in many federal departments including Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing, and Development. As part of the national income accounts, the Bureau of Economic Analysis calculates that the federal government handed out $57 billion in business subsidies in 2010.
A recently issued report from The Heritage Foundation by Chris Edwards and Tad DeHaven, notes that:
There are several upsides to ending federal subsidies to businesses: it would reduce the amount of money taken from taxpayers and given to big corporations; and it would reduce the incentives for political corruption. A less obvious, but no less important, reason to end corporate welfare is that an economy that doesn't depend on subsidies from government is a more entrepreneurial economy that will grow faster.
Edwards and DeHaven provide examples of the failure of government subsidization in the energy industry, with the complicity of both parties:
An early subsidy effort was the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, which was an experimental nuclear fission power plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in the 1970s. This Republican-backed boondoggle cost taxpayers $1.7 billion and produced absolutely nothing in return. Then we had the Synthetic Fuels Corporation (SFC) approved by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, who called it a "keystone" of U.S. energy policy. The government sank $2 billion of taxpayer money into this scheme that funded coal gasification and other technologies before it was closed down as a failure.
More recently, the Obama administration's failures in subsidizing green energy projects are piling up - Solyndra, Raser Technologies, Ecotality, Nevada Geothermal, Beacon Power, First Solar, and Abound Solar. These subsidy recipients have either gone bankrupt or appear to be headed in that direction. The Washington Post found that, "Obama's green-technology program was infused with politics at every level."
The flow of taxpayer money to business continues to grow, whichever party is in power. A recent The New York Times article - "Ties To Obama Aided in Access for Big Utility" - documented how Exelon Corp., a Chicago-based utility, used its political support for President Obama for access and profit. Exelon was one of six utilities that received the maximum $200 million stimulus grant. It also got a $600 million renewable-energy loan guarantee for a solar project in Los Angeles. One of Exelon's subsidiaries received a $200 million grant to install "smart meters" in the Philadelphia area.
Republicans and Democrats are in this together. Sheldon Richman, a senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of The Freeman, points out, with regard to Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan that:
In the Bush years, Ryan voted for everything: No Child Left Behind (which increased the centralization of education), the Medicare drug entitlement, housing subsidies, unemployment-benefits extension, the bank bailouts, and the 2008 subsidies to failing Chrysler and GM. In voting for TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program), Ryan said, "Madame Speaker, this bill offends my principles, but I'm going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles.
William O'Keefe of the George C. Marshall Institute notes that:
"Crony capitalism," a frequently used term describing firms that seek to invest with taxpayer dollars instead of share owner dollars will not reduce unemployment, promote robust economic growth or help the United States compete in the global economy. Reform is needed shrinking the public trough, creating a level playing field, providing business confidence and providing true regulatory reform provide a good start.
Thus far, neither party has had anything to say about corporate welfare. This indicates, sadly, that neither party is serious about bringing government spending under control. It is politics as usual - just what has produced the economic morass we are now in. Americans deserve something better. Things, it seems, will have to become even worse before anyone begins to tell the truth about our problems. *
Now that the 2012 election campaign has come to an end, it would be good if Americans could set partisan acrimony aside as the nation prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving.
This holiday has an interesting history and debate continues over where, in fact, the first Thanksgiving took place. Those of us who live in Virginia believe that the Old Dominion has a powerful historical case that others have tended to overlook.
This writer visited the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, many years ago as the plantation prepared to host a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first commemoration of Thanksgiving. Plantation owner Malcolm Jamieson displayed letters from President John F. Kennedy and former Massachusetts Governor John Volpe declaring that Berkeley was the site of the first formal Thanksgiving in the New World.
Berkeley is the site of other historical firsts as well. The land on which it stands was part of a grant made in 1619 by King James I to the Berkeley Company and was designated "Berkeley Hundred." On December 4, 1619, the settlers stepped ashore there and in accordance with the proprietors' instructions that "the day of our ships' arrival. . . shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving" celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day more than a year before the Pilgrims arrived in New England.
There is much history at Berkeley. In 1781, it was plundered by British troops under Benedict Arnold. During the Civil War it served as headquarters for General McClellan after his withdrawal from the Battle of Malvern Hill. Federal troops were encamped in its fields, transports and gunboats were anchored in the James River. While quartered here with McClellan in the summer of 1862, Gen. Butterfield composed "Taps." It is also reported that the first bourbon distilled in America was distilled at Berkeley by an Episcopal minister.
Walking around the grounds at Berkeley is to enter another world. This is where America began. It was strong men and women who built a nation on these often inhospitable shores. They made many mistakes, as people are always wont to do, but they created a new society in which, as George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, there would "be none to make men afraid." We are a young country, but we are also an old one. Our Constitution is the oldest in the world, and we have continuously maintained the freedoms to which we first paid homage. There has been no period of an elimination of freedom of religion, or of the press, or of assembly. We have weathered wars and depressions. We will also weather the difficulties in which we are now embroiled. But we will do so only if Americans begin to recall their history and their values and not give assent to those who seek only to condemn and to destroy.
Several years ago, I visited a U.S. military ceremony in Italy - near Anzio - with my son Peter and grandson Dario. This visit caused me to reflect on the unique nature of American society.
It was instructive to read the names of the American dead. Virtually all nationalities, ethnic groups and religions are represented. In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that, "We are heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the whole world.
America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters From an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:
Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.
Author Mario Puzo declared that:
What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries - whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, why not? And some even became artists.
As a young man growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, "For a thousand years in Italy, no one in our family was even able to read." But in America, everything was possible - in a single generation.
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal party leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the "millions who have crossed the ocean, who should reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?"
America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany, Frenchmen have loved France, Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been beloved not only by native Americans, but by men and women of every race and nation throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man.
As we gather for our Thanksgiving celebrations it is proper that we reflect upon that first Thanksgiving in Virginia. We have come a long way since that time, and most of that way has been good. Happy Thanksgiving!
The history of the world indicates that freedom is not natural to man, but must be carefully cultivated and taught. Through most of recorded history, man's natural state has been to live under one form of tyranny or another. Freedom must be learned and carefully transmitted from one generation to another if it is to endure.
There is little effort in our contemporary society to transmit our history, or culture, and the values upon which a free society is built. In an important new book, American's Best Colleges! Really? (Crossbooks), John Howard, at 90, continues his strenuous efforts as an educator to reverse recent trends.
This book is dedicated to Angus MacDonald, the long-time editor and publisher of The St. Croix Review and to James Crawford, the founding editor of The Herald Examiner of Freeville, New York.
John Howard has lived an extraordinary life. During World War II, he served in the 745th Tank Battalion, First Infantry Division, and received two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. From 1960-77 he was president of Rockford College. He then served as President of the Rockford Institute and at the present time is a Senior Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.
He believes that our institutions of higher learning have let us down in carrying out their responsibility of introducing our history, culture, and values to the new generation of Americans. He quotes Aristotle: "Of all the things I have mentioned, that which contributes most of the permanence of constitutions is the adaption of education to the form of government." And Montesquieu, in The Spirit of the Laws, analyzed various forms of government. He stated that each one had a unique relationship with the people, and if that relationship changed, that form of government would perish.
In despotism or tyranny, he argues, the government could last as long as the people were afraid of it, doing what they were told to do for fear of severe penalties. A monarchy could last as long as the people were loyal to the crown.
"But a democracy," writes Howard:
. . . or other self-governing regime, depended upon a virtuous populace, which voluntarily abided by the laws and other settled standards of behavior. This free society was the best form of government, and the hardest to achieve and sustain. America's free society was destined for success because the colonists who came to New England and left England for the sole purpose of finding a land where they could practice the Christian faith. . . were already deeply committed to a virtuous life, wholly suited for the government of a free society.
John Howard believes that the Founding Fathers fully understood and supported the cardinal principle proclaimed by Aristotle:
On July, 1787, the Continental Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance. It set forth the plan for the government of the residents of the Northwest Territory and the basis on which a region might qualify for statehood. Article III begins, "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind. . . ." Here is an acknowledgment that our self-government is dependent on religion, morality, and education in that order of importance. That document, and the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution were so intelligently conceived that they reflect a breadth of knowledge and wisdom often said to be superior to the products of any other deliberative body in world history. Certainly, there have been no comparable accomplishments in recent times.
The stress on religion and morality was echoed in the main body of George Washington's inaugural address. American education's attention to the development of character among students was summarized in a 1979 report published by the Hastings Center. The author was Columbia Professor Douglas Sloan. He wrote:
Throughout the 19th century, the most important course in the college curriculum was moral philosophy, taught usually by the college president and required of all senior students. . . . The full significance and centrality of moral philosophy in the 19th century curriculum can only be understood in the light of the assumption held by American leaders and most ordinary citizens that no nation could survive, let alone prosper, without some common moral and social values. . . . However, moral philosophy did not carry the whole burden of forming the students' character and guiding their conduct, the entire college experience was meant above all to be an experience in character development and the moral life.
The wise political philosopher Edmund Burke declared that political liberty cannot exist unless it is sustained by moral behavior. This truth was embraced by our Founding Fathers. President John Adams' Second Inaugural Address was the first one given in the new capitol building. He urged:
May this residence of virtue and happiness . . . here and throughout our country, may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever.
President James Madison wrote:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830s. His book Democracy in America is a classic description of the government and people of America: "By their practice, Americans show they feel the urgent necessity to instill morality into democracy by means of religion."
John Howard declares: "Instill morality into democracy by means of religion - De Tocqueville saw this as the only means by which liberty can be perpetuated in all democratic nations."
John Howard has dedicated his long life to promoting the values upon which a free society depends. In this book are collected a series of his speeches and essays, as well as his latest thoughts on how to preserve a free society and extend it into the future. Those who seek to understand how the values upon which such a society depends can endure into the future would do well to ponder John Howard's thoughtful words on this subject.
American education is in the grip of an epidemic of cheating on the part of students and, sad to say, teachers as well.
In August, some 125 students at Harvard University were being investigated for cheating on a final examination.
Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a study of 100 of Harvard's "best and brightest" students nearly 20 years ago. "The results of that study," he writes
. . . surprised us. Over and over again, students told us they admired good work and wanted to be good workers. But they also told us they wanted - ardently - to be successful. They feared that their peers were cutting corners, and that if they themselves behaved ethically, they would be bested. And so they told us in effect, "Let us cut corners now and one day when we have achieved fame and fortune, we'll be good workers and set a good example.". . a classic case of the end justifies the means.
During the past six years, Gardner and colleagues have conducted reflection sessions at elite colleges. They found "hollowness at the core." In one case, that of a dean who was fired because she lied about her academic qualifications, the most common student response was, "Everyone lies on their resumes." In a discussion of the movie, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," students were asked what they thought of company traders who manipulated the price of energy. Not one student condemned the traders.
The example set by professors, Gardner argues, is not good:
. . . all too often they see their professors cut corners - in their class attendance, their attention to student work, and, most flagrantly, their use of others to do research. Most embarrassingly, when professors are caught - whether in financial misdealings or even plagiarizing others' work - there are frequently no clear punishments . . .
In surveys of high school students, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has found that about three-fifths admit to having cheated in the previous year. Michael Josephson, president of the institute, states that:
Few schools place any meaningful emphasis on integrity, academic or otherwise, and colleges are even more indifferent than high schools.
Some teachers have actually encouraged students to cheat and some have cheated themselves when reporting test scores. In July 2011, a cheating scandal erupted in school systems in and around Atlanta. Georgia state investigators found a pattern of "organized and systemic misconduct" dating back over 10 years. One hundred seventy-eight teachers and the principals of half the system's schools, aided and abetted students who were cheating on their tests. Top administrators ignored news reports of this cheating. A New York Times story described "a culture of fear and intimidation that prevented many teachers from speaking out."
This was not an isolated incident. In a feature on school testing, CBS News reported:
New York education officials found 21 proven cases of teacher cheating. Teachers have read off the answers during a test, sent students back to correct wrong answers, photocopied secure tests for use in class, inflated scores, and peeked at questions and then drilled those topics in class before the test.
William Damon, professor of education at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that
It is practically impossible to find a school that treats academic integrity as a moral issue by employing revealed incidents of cheating to communicate to its student body values such as honesty, respect for rules, and trust. . . . I have noticed a palpable lack of interest among teachers and staff in discussing the moral significance of cheating with students. The problem here is the low priority of honesty in our agenda for schooling specifically and child-rearing in general.
In the past, Professor Damon points out:
. . . there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us, today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-20th century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. . . . As the Founders of our Republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy. . . . Honesty is no longer a priority in many of the settings where young people are educated. The future of every society depends upon the character development of its young. It is in the early years of life, when basic virtues that shape character are acquired. . . . Honesty is a prime example of a virtue that becomes habitual over the years if practiced consistently - and the same can be said about dishonesty.
The cheating scandals among students and teachers are, of course, simply the tip of the iceberg of our society's retreat from honesty - and honor. Ethical lapses on the part of Wall Street, Congress and other sectors of society seem to be growing. Each time a political leader speaks, the fact-checkers fill columns reporting about their misstatements. Didn't anyone think that if we stopped teaching morals and ethics - and the difference between right and wrong - that society would lose its moral compass? It appears no one did.
New York Times columnist James Reston once noted that writing newspaper columns about the events of the day is like making "footprints in the sand," quickly covered by something new.
Some writers, however, while focusing upon the events of their own time, write for the future as well, applying their philosophy and worldview to the events of the day, but focusing upon the timeless principles that reflect their view of the past as well as the future.
One such writer who graced late 20th century America was Joe Sobran, who died in 2010. He was referred to by Pat Buchanan as perhaps "the finest columnist of our generation."
In 1972, Sobran began working at National Review and stayed for 21 years, 18 as senior editor. He also spent 21 years as a commentator on the CBS Radio "Spectrum" program series and was a syndicated columnist, first with the Los Angeles Times and later with the Universal Press Syndicate.
In a new book, Joseph Sobran: The National Review Years, the Fitzgerald-Griffin Foundation has gathered together some of Sobran's best articles from 1974 to 1991. These cover a wide range of topics, including Christianity, the media, the Constitution, motion pictures, Shakespeare, and baseball. In the foreword, Buchanan writes that, "What is extraordinary about this book of essays is the range of Joe's interests and the quality of his insights."
One essay deals with an incident in 1987 when a gang of young toughs in Queens, New York, beat up three young men. When one of the three, trying to escape, was hit by a car and killed, Mayor Ed Koch called the crime a "racial lynching," because the perpetrators were white and the victims black. The media referred to America as an increasingly "racist" society, even though all indications pointed toward improving race relations.
In what came to be known as the "Howard Beach Incident" Sobran saw a built-in bias on the part of the media at work:
All news is "biased" in that it's the selection of information in accordance with tacit standards of relevance. We notice the bias when the news is chosen to fit a "super story" the audience doesn't necessarily subscribe to. . . . The super story behind the Howard Beach Story was Racist America. The very fact that it was empirically atypical made it all the more dramatic as a synecdoche. . . . The media are so saturated by myth that it's fair to see "news" as an early stage on the assembly line whose final product is a New York Times editorial.
In a review of the book Whatever Happened to the Human Race by Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer, Sobran confronts the growing advocacy of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, what he calls the "cheapening of life." He declares that
. . . as the abortion issue shows, the definition of "defective" has quickly broadened to mean anything not wanted by people in a position to kill. There is the case of a young couple who asked for a prenatal test to determine the sex of the child they are expecting: they said they feared a boy would be a hemophiliac. When the test showed it was a girl, they admitted they actually wanted a boy, because they preferred a boy. The girl was aborted.
In an essay on censorship and stereotypes, Sobran points out that
Religion is still a real and vital part of American life, but it is amazingly "underrepresented" (to use the liberal term) in mass communications. This is not a matter of conspiracy or even conscious avoidance, but of unconscious habit, much like modes of dress: religion simply isn't in the intellectual wardrobe of media people.
Sobran's 1990 essay, "The Republic of Baseball" is accompanied by a picture of the author on National Review's cover in Yankee uniform at Yankee Stadium. To all Americans who grew up in the mid-20th century - particularly men - baseball was central, as Sobran shows:
Not to play means missing out on the common experience of the male sex. And once you get into it, it's easy to get absorbed. In Ypsilanti, Michigan, I spent long winters studying baseball statistics to while away the endless cold grey days until the snow melted. Then, around mid-March, we started our new season in the park, or any empty field. . . . Baseball wasn't just something we played and watched. It was something we lived.
Beyond this, writes Sobran
The statistics, discreetness of individual performance, set against the game's stable history, gives achievement in baseball a permanence and stature that other sports can seldom confer. . . . The rules are really impartial. . . . There are no "racist" balls and strikes . . . only balls and strikes. . . . In politics, men are elected to bend the rules in someone's favor. It shouldn't surprise us when they break them too. A key difference between baseball and democracy is that in baseball the winners don't get to rewrite the rules. And it never occurs to the losers to blame the rules for their losses.
Sobran was an admirer of the British author G. K. Chesterton, to whom he has been compared. He reports about his attendance in Toronto of a meeting of the Chesterton Society in 1979 and recalls Chesterton's early opposition to "the science of eugenics" whose "consequences he foresaw." Advocates of eugenics included Oliver Wendell Holmes, who supported mandatory sterilization. Of Chesterton, he wrote:
His defense of the poor was rooted in a defense of the family and of liberty against those state planners who pined for population refinement. It is not hard to see the likeness to those enlightened souls who think the state should now promote contraception and abortion among the poor. . . . It reminds us that we who are alive today are the lucky survivors of Nazism and related evils; those of the next generation will be the lucky survivors of abortion "reform."
There is, of course, much more excellent writing - and thoughtful insights in these essays, including several advancing Sobran's thesis that the 17th Earl of Oxford was, in fact, the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare.
In the afterword, author Ann Coulter states that
Joe could say in a sentence what most writers would need an entire column to express. His specialty was to make blindingly simple points that would cut through mountains of sophistry.
One need not agree with all of Sobran's views to appreciate the keen intelligence and moral perspective he brought to his work.
Fran Griffin and the Fifzgerald-Griffin Foundation are to be congratulated for publishing this collection of Joe Sobran's essays. Hopefully, through this book a new generation of readers will be made aware of some of the best writing of the recent past. *
Milton Friedman, the 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economic Science, and the pre-eminent American advocate of free enterprise, was born on July 31, 1912 - a hundred years ago. This is an appropriate time to commemorate his life and reflect upon his achievements in advancing freedom.
It was Milton Friedman's belief that free enterprise was the only form of economic organization consistent with other freedoms. In his important book Capitalism and Freedom, he points out that
The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables one to offset the other.
It was his view that
Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated - a system of checks and balances. By removing the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, the market eliminates this source of coercive power. It enables economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement.
Businessmen, Friedman liked to point out, believe in maximizing profits, not necessarily in genuinely free markets. He declared that
With some notable exceptions, businessmen favor free enterprise in general, but are opposed to it when it comes to themselves.
In a lecture entitled "The Suicidal Impulse of the Business Community" given in 1938, he declared that
The broader and more influential organizations of businessmen have acted to undermine the basic foundation of the free market system they purport to represent and defend.
What would Milton Friedman think of the recent bailout of failing banks, supported by both Republicans and Democrats? Wall Street Journal columnist David Wessel points out that
He didn't trust central bankers. He blamed the Bank of Japan for the deflation of the 1990s and the Fed for the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Inflation of the 1970s. He would, if his co-author Anna Schwartz is any clue, have condemned the bank bailouts of recent years. "They should not be recapitalizing firms that should be shut down," she told The Journal in 2008.
The issue he devoted most of his time to in his later years was school choice for all parents, and his Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, is dedicated to that cause. He used to lament that
We allow the market, consumer choice, and competition to work in nearly every industry except for the one that may matter most, education.
Friedman was also proud to have been an influential voice in ending the military draft in the 1970s. When his critics argued that he wanted a military of mercenaries, he would respond:
If you insist on calling our volunteer soldiers "mercenaries," I will call those who you want to draft into service involuntary "slaves."
One of Friedman's former students at the University of Chicago, the respected economist Thomas Sowell, recalls that
Like many, if not most, people who became prominent opponents of the left, Professor Friedman began on the left. Decades later, looking back at a statement of his own from his early years, he said: "The most striking feature of this statement is how thoroughly Keynesian it is." No one converted Milton Friedman, either in economics or in his views on social policy. His own research, analysis, and experience converted him. As a professor, he did not attempt to convert students to his political views. I made no secret of the fact that I was a Marxist when I was a student . . . but he made no effort to change my views. He once said that anybody who was easily converted was not worth converting. I was still a Marxist after taking Professor Friedman's class. Working as an economist in the government converted me.
As a student of Friedman's in 1960, Sowell, who is black, notes that
I was struck by two things - his tough grading standards and the fact that he had a black secretary. This was years before affirmative action. People on the left exhibit blacks as mascots. But I never heard Milton Friedman say that he had a black secretary, though she was with him for decades. Both his grading standards and his refusal to try to be politically correct increased by respect for him.
In the late 1960s, Friedman explained that "there is no such thing as a free lunch." If the government spends a dollar, that dollar has to come from producers and workers in the private economy.
Friedman once said that
The true test of any scholar's work is not what his contemporaries say, but what happens to his work in the next 25 or 50 years. And the thing that I will really be proud of is if some of the work I have done is still cited in the textbooks long after I'm gone.
It seems certain that Milton Friedman will not only be cited in the textbooks but that men and women who value freedom everywhere in the world will recognize in him one of its prophetic voices. He clearly identified the intrinsic link between freedom of speech, religious freedom, the freedom to govern oneself - and economic freedom that, as he often pointed out, is simply democracy applied to the marketplace.
Honor and integrity used to be important in the American society. This writer, as a student at the College of William and Mary, signed the school's Honor Code, which declared that anyone who stole or cheated would be immediately removed from the college. This was the first Honor Code at an American college. It reflected the values of that society. Professors left the room when students took exams, and dormitory rooms were often left unlocked. Honor was more valued than anything that might be gained from dishonor.
Now, our society seems to have embraced a different standard of value, or non-value. Consider just a few recent developments.
* Seventy-one at New York's elite Stuyvesant High School were involved in cheating on the state's Regent's examinations in Spanish, U.S. History, English, and Physics. Stuyvesant admits just the top tier of 8th graders. The students involved in cheating were not expelled - and were not even given a failing mark in the exam. Instead, they remain enrolled in the school and will be able to retake the exam. Commenting on this, Frank W. Abagnale, the subject of the book, movie and Broadway musical "Catch Me if You Can," declared: "We do not teach ethics at home, and we do not teach ethics in school because the teacher would be accused of teaching morality. In most cases, we do not teach ethics in college or even instill ethics in the workplace."
* A report issued in mid-July by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, after an eight-month investigation, concluded that four of Penn State University's most powerful leaders, including head football coach Joe Paterno and the school's president, covered up allegations of sexual abuse by an assistant coach because they were concerned about negative publicity. Confronted with reports that Jerry Sandusky lured boys to the State College campus where he sexually abused them, Penn State's leadership deferred to "a culture of reverence for the football program" and repeatedly "concealed Sandusky's activities from authorities." Freeh said "Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State."
* Congressional ethics, we know, is an oxymoron. Recently, a report was issued by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, about how a group of lawmakers and their staff benefited from a "VIP" loan program not available to the public that waived fees, cut interest rates, and eased borrowing standards. Countrywide Financial offered the special loans in an effort to dissuade lawmakers from voting for stiffer banking regulations. The report names names, with many lawmakers still in Congress, but it did not include a letter from Issa calling for the ethics panel to investigate the matter. Without the letter, the ethics panel is not required to do a thing.
* In Washington, D.C., there are calls for the resignation of Mayor Vicent Gray. He has refused to answer questions about whether or not he knew, before or during the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary, about a secret, well-funded and illegal "shadow campaign" on his behalf. More than $653,000 was unlawfully used to purchase materials and hire workers to secure his victory over then Mayor Adrian Fenty two years ago, money allegedly supplied by a prominent businessman with significant contractual interests with the U.S. Government. Mayor Gray's campaign slogan was "character, integrity, leadership." Three members of the D.C. Council - and a host of others in the city - have called for the mayor to resign.
Many books have been written about financial misdeeds on Wall Street, about child abuse and cover-ups within the Roman Catholic Church, and among the Orthodox Jewish community in New York. While it may be true that bad news is news while good news is not, the bad news is increasingly widespread.
Our crisis in values has been building for some time. The May-June1988 issue of The Harvard Magazine published an eleven-page essay, "Ethics, the University, and Society," by President Derek Bok. He declares that
The American nation is greatly in need of some means to civilize new generations of the people, preparing them to serve as honest, benevolent, productive citizens of a free society, and all of Harvard's deliberations and studies and initiatives and earnest concerns have not resulted in any effective means of Character Education.
Derek Bok concludes:
Despite the importance of moral development to the individual and the society, one cannot say that higher education has demonstrated a deep concern for the problem. . . . The subject is not treated as a serious responsibility worthy of sustained discussion and determined action. . . . If this situation is to change there is no doubt where the initiative must lie. Universities will never do much to encourage a genuine concern of ethical issues or to help their students to acquire a strong and carefully considered set of moral values until presidents and deans take the lead.
Needless to say, things have deteriorated a great deal since then. It is not only the values of average Americans that appear to be in a fee fall of decline, but those of our elites may be leading the way. Who in Washington or Wall Street - or at Penn State - is held responsible for what they do?
New York Times columnist David Brooks laments about the decline on the part of today's elites. In the past, he writes, elites
. . . had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence, and service.
Today's elite, in Brooks' view,
. . . is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this. If you read the e-mails from the Libor scandal you get the same sensation from reading the e-mails in so many recent scandals: these people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.
How to reverse our moral decline is not a subject that is being widely discussed in our contemporary society. It should be. If it is not addressed, all of us - and our children and grandchildren - will be losers.
Government spending, everyone realizes, is out of control. During President George W. Bush's tenure from 2001 through 2009, the national debt doubled. According to Bruce Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, the prescription drug bill alone is projected to add nearly $400 billion in its first decade.
Both parties are clearly in this together. According the Factcheck.org:
Spending under President Obama remains at a level that is quite high by historical standards. Measured as a percentage of the nation's economic production, it reached the highest level since World War II in fiscal 2009.
Since 2009, the Obama administration has maintained trillion dollar deficits. Writing in Roll Call, Dustin Siggins and David Weinberger report that
If we average spending as a percentage of GDP under Bush from 2001 to 2009, it comes to just over 20 percent. . . . If we do the same for Obama from 2010 to 2012, we get about 24 percent, quite a bit higher than the historical average.
One place to cut spending is to eliminate depression-era farm subsidies. But since each farm state has two senators, some Democrats, some Republicans, this has been difficult to do. Now, in our era of economic decline and skyrocketing government debt, it is time to take a serious look at this wasteful program.
In 2012, the Department of Agriculture is projected to spend $22 billion on subsidy programs for farmers. Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University notes that this program was introduced in the 1930s to help struggling small family farms but
. . . the subsidies have become the poster child for government welfare for the affluent. Farm households have higher incomes, on average, than do non-farm U.S. households. Figures from the USDA show that in 2010 the mean farm household income was $84,400, up 9.4 percent from 2009. This is 25 percent higher than the mean U.S. household income of $67,350 as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau for 2010.
Beyond this, farm subsidies tend to flow toward the largest and wealthiest farm businesses. According the Environment Working Group database, in 2010, 10 percent of farms received 74 percent of all subsidies. These recipients are large commercial farms with more than $250,000 in sales and mostly produced crops tied to political interests. The Cato Institute's Tad DeHaven and Chris Edwards calculate that more than 90 percent of all farm subsidies go to farmers of just five crops - corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, and cotton. For every federal dollar spent on farm subsidies, 19 cents goes to small farms, 19 cents goes to intermediate (middle income) farms, and 62 cents to the largest commercial farms.
In De Rugy's view
The tragedy is that while cronyism benefits the haves, all other Americans - especially those with lower incomes - suffer from the resulting distortions. Take the domestic sugar industry as an example. The government protects its producers against foreign competitors by imposing U.S. import quotas, and against low prices generally with a no-recourse loan program that serves as an effective price floor. As a result . . . U.S. consumers and businesses had to pay twice the world price of sugar on average since 1982.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. farm lobby contributes millions of dollars to political campaigns to maintain federal support for the subsidies. The agribusiness sector as a whole spent $124 million on lobbying 2011. For the past decade, the amount of money this sector has spent on lobbying has grown more than 69 percent. Between 1995 and 2009, 23 farmers currently serving in Congress have signed up for farm subsidies.
The fact is that the U.S. has the richest, most productive agricultural sector, and the best fed population in the world. Boosted by $136.3 billion in gross sales to other countries, U.S. net farm income hit a record $98.1 billion in 2011. A new Economist Intelligence Unit report ranks the U.S. as the most "food secure" nation in the world, based on the affordability and quality of its food supply. The U.S. provides the equivalent of 3,748 calories per day for each of its roughly 314 million people. That is nearly 1,500 calories more than the minimum necessary for a healthy life.
Still, every five years Congress drafts a farm bill as if U.S. agriculture cannot possibly exist in a real free market economy. At this very moment, farm-state lawmakers and the lobbyists who swarm around them, are preparing to extend this program of subsidies. The Senate has already passed a measure priced at $969 billion over the next decade. The House has gone on summer vacation without acting as Republicans weigh the election-year political risks of proceeding with that chamber's own near-trillion dollar measure.
Editorially, The Washington Times points out that
Like the bank bailouts and TARP, the farm bill illustrates the capture of the legislative process by special interests. The last farm bill in 2008 was the focus of $173.5 million in lobbying expenditure. . . . This is all money spent on what the Mercatus Center's Matthew Mitchell calls "unproductive entrepreneurship" where people are organizing and expending their talent to become rent seekers, and the end result is wealth redistribution, not wealth creation. Real entrepreneurship innovates in ways that are socially useful. Cronyism diverts resources . . . into a system that rewards privileges to favored groups. In the case of the 2008 farm bill, recipients of subsidies of $30,000 or more had an average household income of $210,000.
Many in Congress who speak of their belief in the free market and who decry huge government deficits, nevertheless seem ready to extend farm subsidies into the future. This tells us, unfortunately, that what we are witnessing is politics as usual. And both parties are in it together. No one needs to wonder why we can't bring government spending under control. This is why. *