Bill O’Reilly Corrects Himself—Kinda

Bill O'ReillyFairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) published a good article on Bill O’Reilly’s “evolution” on one part of the IRS scandal. As you may recall, the Daily Caller published an article in which they claimed that former IRS Chief Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times while Obama was president. It took about a day for Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic to write, The Fake Story About the IRS Commissioner and the White House. In it, she explained that those 157 times were not actual visits of Shulman to the White House, but just times that Shulman had been provided with clearance by the Secret Service to come to mostly standing meetings. As far as we can tell, that was 11 times. Shulman visited the White House compound (not usually the White House itself) 11 times. He only met with Obama twice and both those times were with a large group of people.

Let’s look at the timeline:

29 May
The Daily Caller article appears.
30 May
Bill O’Reilly reports, “This man former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House—ready—157 times. Incredible.”
31 May
The Atlantic corrects the Daily Caller article.
3 June
Bill O’Reilly reports, “So far, we have been dead on. Last week we told you that former IRS Chief Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times, far more than any other department head.”
4 June
Bill O’Reilly reports, “How about the Shulman guy with 157 visits?”
5 June
On The Factor, guest Kirsten Powers tries to inject a little fact into the discussion, saying, “The number of times he actually showed up is something like 11, I think.” O’Reilly corrects her, “Oh that’s—that’s false. We don’t know that. He was cleared in 157 times.”

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! Savor this moment, because this is the closest we ever get to a correction or apology from Bill O’Reilly. He’s right: we don’t know that he was only at the White House compound 11 times. He could have been there more. Not a lot more. And certainly nothing like 157 times, as O’Reilly keeps saying. But we don’t know that he was there only only 11 times. Bill O’Reilly likes to get his facts straight if they counter his ridiculously false claims.

Maybe a Democratic Surveillance State?

Mike KonczalI think of Mike Konczal as an economics writer, but he is usually just as illuminating when writing about other things. Yesterday at Wonk Blog, he wrote, Is a Democratic Surveillance State Possible? In it, he described work by Yale law professor Jack Balkin where he argues that there are two kinds of surveillance states: authoritarian and democratic. Of course, in the United States, we have the authoritarian kind. And that is perhaps understandable. It matches our pretend democracy.

Authoritarian surveillance states act as gluttons and misers of information. They are gluttons in the sense that they collect all the information they can without regard to content or source. As Konczal puts it, “More is always better, indiscriminate access is better than targeted responses, and there’s a general presumption that they’ll have access to whatever they want, at any time.” But they are misers in that they want as little information as possible to get out about who they are and what they do. In other words, authoritarian surveillance wants ultimate power and no accountability or transparency.

Democratic surveillance states, on the other hand, are, “information gourmets and information philanthropists.” They are highly selective about the information they collect and generous about what they are doing and for what purpose. Konczal points out that a big part of this would be information destruction. That’s one thing you can count on: the government might, for example, take your finger prints to identify you. But they will use those fingerprints even after you die to accuse you of crime. The information just goes on and on. In the case of fingerprints, it probably makes sense. But does it make sense for the NSA to maintain all of my phone records until the end of time? I assure you that they think so.

The worst part of all this is that we know that we can’t trust the courts. As I reported earlier this year, FISA just acts as a pass-through filter for the surveillance state. Over 32 years, the FISA courts got 38,093 requests for secret monitoring and they denied just 11 of those requests. That means they approved more 99.97% of those requests. Great oversight guys! Konczal notes:

Democratic accountability is also needed because the courts, which are the major line of defense for classical liberals and libertarians, haven’t provided a constitutional check when it comes to information. The Fourth Amendment isn’t providing the privacy needs that are necessary to keep the state in check. The courts, for better or worse, are finding that most of the information that the government collects in this new digital age lie outside expectations of privacy.

Clearly, we need to move toward a democratic surveillance state. Actually, I’m even more liberal (Libertarian!) than that. I think most of our secret services are unnecessary. Just like with our imperial guard all over the world, they aren’t there to make us safer. They are there to keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful. But I understand that few people think like I do. So the least we can do (the least) is to limit the scope of the surveillance state and make it transparent so that we know in a general sense what it is doing.

Afterword

Today at Wonk Blog, Timothy B. Lee asks, Has the US Become the Type of Nation from Which You Have to Seek Asylum? This is in reference to Edward Snowden, the NSA surveillance leaker who is in Hong Kong trying to get political asylum from the United States. He sums up:

There’s no question that the United States has stronger protections for free speech and the rule of law than repressive regimes like China or Iran. But it’s also clear that our courts defend constitutional rights less zealously today than they did in Ellsberg’s day. Snowden wasn’t crazy to question whether he’d be treated fairly by the American justice system.

That’s an understatement. All indications are that someone like Snowden would be treated quite unfairly by the American “justice” system. Can you say John Kiriakou?

Car Shows and White Power

1930 Buick RoadsterAs many of you know, my familial obligations require me to do things that, in a social vacuum, I would never do. The best example of this is attendance at action films with my older brother. But another example of this is my going to car shows with my father. All of my childhood—which included roughly a dozen and a half residences—we dragged around a non-operational 1930 Buick Roadster. The idea was that someday my father would restore it. Eventually, he realized that he would never have the fifty grand necessary to restore it. Even in the shape it was in it was worth about twenty grand, so my dad sold it and used the money to restore his 1950 Buick, which he owned three of. So he’s very into this stuff. And so today I went with him to Peggy Sue’s All-American Cruise.

I was struck by something once we got there. The classic car owners all pay to be the show. The vendors all pay to sell their wares. And the people all pay to get in. All the website says is that a portion of the proceeds go to local youth groups. So I think it is a scam. Normally, the car owners and the vendors pay but the event is free. Of course, most events don’t feature the talents of performers like Bowzer & The Stingrays, who were the only notable acts of the few who were featured. (That was sarcasm about “talents.”) Look, I get it: I don’t mind seeing the same juggling act performed by different people at every outdoor event I go to. But no one goes for the acts, and Bowzer can’t be that expensive anyway. I’m supposed to cheer it because it’s all (or mostly, or partly) for the kids.

One of those youth groups the event supports must have been the Boy Scouts. They were everywhere at the event, most especially helping to park cars with the cheerful eagerness one normally associates with an Eeyore family reunion. It may be unfair, but I always associate the Boy Scouts with the Hitler Youth. I understand that the Hitler Youth basically took over what had been the Boy Scouts in Germany. But the uniforms, the paramilitary style, the right wing politics? It strikes me as downright un-American. But that’s just because there are two currents in America: the fierce individual and the belligerent conformist. I respect the first. But the Scouts reflect too much of the second, even if it is not intentionally bad. Its exclusionary policies alone reinforce the worst aspects of in-group/out-group politics. Hell, some troupes were still racially segregated until 1974! But what better place for them to be than at a very white event like a car show?

There are aspects of car shows that I like. For example, I’m always struck by just how simple car engines used to be. And this particular show had a local group that is bound together by their shared love of simple one-stroke engines and other farm automation equipment. In front of one of the engines was a copy of a 1924 advertisement that made a very big deal of the fact that it was selling for 19% less than it had 11 years earlier. I like that practical appeal, “Farmers! Here is an engine for your well pump that is cheap and effective!” No advertising bullshit there, just the facts. It’s charming. Of course, the economist in me wondered if there hadn’t been improvements on the engine over the last 11 years that might have made a model that hadn’t gone down in price a better deal.

What I most don’t like about car shows is that they represent what most old people consider the great days of the 1950s. You see this in the bands that play which are almost always 50s cover bands and when they aren’t, they are WWII era girl groups. And just like it would have been if I had grown up in that time, I don’t feel welcome. I’m constantly reminded in subtle and overt ways that I don’t belong. I might understand the Carnot Cycle, but I have no idea why it matters that some car has a double four barrel carburetor. Any gathering where you are on the inside is fun. I pretty much never feel like I’m on the inside. But the modern American car show combines that disaffection in me with an appeal to the good old days of small minded exclusiveness.

But I do like some of the cars. I’m especially fond of Fords, for whatever reason. But I keep this to myself. My father is a Buick man.

Get a Kick Out of Cole Porter

Cole PorterOn this day back in 1812, the discoverer of Neptune, Johann Gottfried Galle was born. By “discoverer” I mean that he was the first person to see it and know what it was. The planet was already theorized and Urbain Le Verrier had predicted roughly where it would be. Still, Galle’s achievement is notable.

The founder of the Repository for Germinal Choice, Robert Klark Graham was born in 1906. Very creepy eugenics stuff. Iron artisan Philip Simmons was born in 1912. Guitar legend Les Paul was born in 1915. The longest serving Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara was born in 1916. Although he came to regret the Vietnam War, he was one of its principle architects. Still, there were larger social forces working. McNamara was not an evil man like Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld.

The late great rhythm and blues singer Johnny Ace was born in 1929. He wasn’t bad at all. His biggest song was Pledging My Love. But he is best know for his death. He was playing around with a .22 caliber revolver while drunk. And he accidentally shot and killed himself. He was 25.

Contemporary of Jacques Brel, the French chanson singer-songwriter Barbara (Monique Andree Serf) was born in 1930. Here she is doing “Le Bel Age” about her affair with a beautiful young man:

And Jackie Wilson was born in 1934. Here he is doing “Higher and Higher”:

Writer of the novel The Graduate, Charles Webb is 74 today. Film composer James Newton Howard is 62. Crummy but popular crime novelist Patricia Cornwell is 57. Michael J. Fox and Johnny Depp is the big five-oh. Natalie Portman is 32. And “Egg” from Arrested Development, Mae Whitman is 25.

The day, however, belongs to the great songwriter Cole Porter who was born on this day in 1891. He wrote so many great pop songs, they are hard to list. So I’m not even going to try. Here is Frank Sinatra doing one of them, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”:

Happy birthday Cole Porter!

Reagan Today

Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized MedicineOn Real Time last Friday, Bill Maher claimed that Ronald Reagan was the original Teabagger. It’s a funny bit that’s worth watching. It highlights some problematic liberal mythology. But it doesn’t actually attack what many people mean when they say that Reagan wouldn’t fit into the modern Republican Party.

Politics is relative, and Maher is right to point this out with regards to tax policy. Reagan may have raised taxes from time to time, but the main thing he did was cut the taxes of the rich in half. Modern Republicans would likely tinker with new taxes too if the Democrats would allow them to cut the top tax rate to 20%. But the more fundamental issue is how Reagan would act if he were on the radio or in the White House right now. And there is no doubt: he would be the conservative populist he always was. So he would be a Tea Party leader. There is no question of that.

A more interesting question is where Nixon would stand in the modern environment. He was not ideological in the sense that Reagan was. But there is no doubt that he was a cultural conservative. However, his neuroses were so extreme, that they could have taken him in any direction. And I have a hard time imagining him in the context of the ideological extremism of the Tea Party. I don’t think he would have felt comfortable there.

Another part of this—certainly for Obama when he quotes and otherwise refers to Reagan—is the tendency for one party to look back fondly at past leaders of the opposition. The Republicans do this with Clinton—a man they seriously accused of murder when he was in office. This is the part of Maher’s rant that is most important. Obama should be saying that Reagan is the man who first got this country way off the tracks. He should not treat Reagan as a hero because the people of the United States and the greater cause of liberalism have been terribly hurt by Reagan. The problem is that Obama pretty much agrees with Reagan’s positions. Like most New Democrats, he just wants to take conservative ideas and implement them better. See, for example, the last four and a half years.

When I, and I think others, compare the modern Republican Party to Reagan (which I rarely do) or Nixon, it isn’t to say that they would be different from modern Republicans if they were in politics today. Rather, it is a claim about the changes in the party itself. Primarily, it is a claim that at one time the Republican Party was actually interested in government. It is a claim that the Republicans have moved from a normal political party to a revolutionary party. But it is because I know just how radical Reagan was that I normally hearken back to Nixon. Because Maher is right: Reagan really was the start of this Tea Party nonsense.