Posts Tagged ‘David Gregory’

How Lawless and Increasingly Violent is the Arizona-Mexico Border? Not Very.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I’m impressed with Jake Tapper’s handling of This Week in the interim before Christiane Amanpour takes over in August. Tapper seems committed to widening the opinions voiced on the show from the typical “Beltway” crowd to some of those voices most influential in the Beltway who are critical of it. Which means bringing on Glenn Greenwald and Bill Maher. I’m still waiting on his bringing in some conservatives similarly positioned as “outsiders” while being very influential in the Beltway. Maher and Greenwald substantially influence our political conversation while never before being given the opportunity to intrude on the polite Sunday morning territory and confront the people they so regularly criticize. In the same spirit, Tapper has added a fact check component to his show — in which Politifact evaluates the truthfulness of factual claims made in his interviews. This is a huge improvement given the churning of misinformation that seems to be the main purpose some leaders use it for.

The quality of Tapper’s program was brought to mind watching this clip of Mike Murphy, a Republican political operative and frequent guest on Meet the Press. (For what it’s worth, Mike Murphy seems a genuinely likable guy and often, even a straight-shooter — and I don’t mean this as an attack on him personally.) If David Gregory allowed a fact checker to go over the claims of his guests, then perhaps the above-moment with the very inside-the-Beltway figure of Mike Murphy would not have happened. Because you see that moment was entirely fact-free. Entirely. Yet, Mike Murphy’s statement represents an oft-repeated “fact” in the opinion media — especially on the right. And it is driving the actual policy of the state of Arizona.

Let’s look at Mike Murphy’s claims and the facts:

It’s a lawless frontier because of the failure of the Obama administration to protect the American border. People are getting killed and murdered.  It has become really bad in Arizona.

Describing illegal immigration in partisan terms as a “failure of the Obama administration” seems best explained as a fudge rather than a blatant lie. It’s been an ongoing problem that as a nation we do not control our borders and maintain a law which cannot be enforced. Gregory interjects as Murphy is speaking, “This goes back before Obama, though, to be fair.” However, by stating such, Gregory seems to be conceding Murphy’s general point.

But look at the stats on this “People are getting killed and murdered” bit — which “has become really bad in Arizona,” according to Murphy, as he voices the “Conventional Wisdom” accepted by David Gregory as well. Yet there have been exactly four (4) murders along this supposedly lawless frontier in the past year. One of them generated thousands of headlines about the scourge of illegal immigration, the death of the rancher Robert Krentz. These anti-immigrant activists who talk casually of “People getting killed and murdered” (as if to double the impact of each homicide) — of the overall situation being “really bad” — even of, specifically, many ranchers being killed — always seem to point to this single example — Robert Krentz. I’ve seen no news story or other evidence linking more than this one death to border crossing. I’ve asked a number of people who have said this to point to some statistic — and instead I get the story of Robert Krentz, being exploited for politics. Remember: Arizona’s border is supposed to be the worst example of a lawless border and yet there is this single example which is always pointed to in order to justify the claim of plural murders — and even huge amounts of violence. I do not doubt there are other deaths along the border — perhaps on the Mexican side — of people trying to make the illegal crossing themselves and dying of thirst or other privation.

Mike Murphy follows this up by doubling down on his above false claim in an attempt to both place the blame for this historic problem on the Obama administration and make the case that Arizona’s very violent crime rate along the border is getting worse:

[I]t’s gotten, it’s gotten worse and worse.

To be fair to Murphy, one could consider that he means that any level of violence is bad — and that it is getting worse. So, let’s take this as a separate claim — that Murphy is instead claiming that violence along the border is increasing. CNN reported:

According to FBI statistics, violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona’s population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008.

Let’s give Mike Murphy the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant that the overall problem of illegal immigration into Arizona has “gotten worse and worse” under the Obama administration. Homeland Security helpfully provides statistics on this which I have compiled into this chart:

This drop in illegal immigration isn’t due to any Bush, Obama, or local level actions. It’s due to the recession.

However, another consequence of a recession is a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment.

Which explains why Mike Murphy along with much of the Republican establishment is out there demagoguing illegal immigrants by making false claims about all these murders and violence: Because during times of economic trouble, people look to scapegoat someone for their troubles — and immigrants, especially illegal ones, get some of the blame.

But let’s stop with this pretense of “violent illegal immigrants.” That is the stuff of demagogues and prejudice as it simply is not based on facts.

Instead, let us acknowledge forthrightly that the excitement over this issue is being drive by cultural and economic resentment rather than “violence.”

NBC’s Dr. Nancy Defends Doctors in Breast Cancer Debate: “We are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country”

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

One of the main competitions in our politics, aside from the liberal versus right-wing, and the establishment versus anti-establishment, is the the competition between technocrats and idiocrats. While technocrats may be ascendant in Obama’s Washington, as policy wonks and experts attempt to solve intractable problems with technical solutions and brainpower and science, the idiocrats, who try to get their agenda through by fooling enough of the people enough of the time, still have a solid hold on the political discussion.

Idiocrats take advantage of that old adage, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and make sure smoke obscures any issue in which they want to get their way. Rather than respond to their opponents on the merits, they simply describe their opponents and their agenda as the fulfillment of the idiocrat’s worst fears: “Nazi!” “Socialist!” “Communist!” Terrorist!” “America-hater!” “Death panels!” “Government-mandated abortion!” “Reparations!” “Secret Muslim!” “Radical!” For those who are not paying enough attention to the issue to sort through all the competing claims, this extremist rhetoric, while not convincing them, causes them to assume something bad is going on, even if it isn’t as bad as is being claimed.

For example, even as the health care plan Obama has proposed is largely based on previous Republican proposals, and seems to take into account conservative critiques of big government while still making progress towards liberal goals, idiocrats have condemned it in the harshest terms possible, raising every possible fear – from government kidnapping your children and indoctrinating them into socialism, to rationing by death panels, to runaway spending bankrupting the country, to abortion mandates, to the destruction of the employer-based health care system, to the destruction of Medicare. It makes little difference that it is hard to imagine a plan that both rations care brutally and leads to runaway spending, or that everyone acknowledges our current system is on an unsustainable course, or that the measures included in the bills under consideration represent the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation.

Last week, as part of a continuing effort to generate smoke to obscure real issues, the Wall Street Journal editorial board started a deliberate lie to undermine the health care reforms in Congress by claiming (without evidence and contrary to news reports as well as the the recommendation itself) that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – a independent, technocratic organization of doctors started by Ronald Reagan – had changed its recommendations regarding breast cancer prevention as part of Obama’s push to reduce the health care costs. This explosive claim became the focus of the public debate, instead of the recommendations of the report itself and their rationale.

On Sunday, Meet the Press had a typically “even-handed” debate between their own Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of an organization dedicated to fighting breast cancer. The whole 12 minute segment is worth watching (transcript), as you can see Brinker acknowledging that the task force might be right on the science, but at the same time suggesting that we shouldn’t show any weakness in our war against cancer by suggesting mammograms might not always be a good thing. She made a few valid points, giving certain circumstances in which mammograms would be better than alternatives, but she couldn’t and didn’t dispute the task force’s medical conclusions.

But the piece is truly worth watching for “Dr. Nancy” took on the idiocrats who were muddying the issue and defended the scientific conclusions of the doctors:

DR. SNYDERMAN: [O]ver 1900 women screened over a 10-year period of annual mammograms, one life is saved and there are a thousand false positives, which means ongoing, unnecessary tests.  Now remember, the scientists who did these numbers, their role is, as scientists, to take the anecdotes and the passion and the emotion out of it.  And I recognize that’s hard as part of the message.  But they’re to look at the public health issues of how we screen. And we’ve always known that mammography for women in their 40s has been fraught with problems.  It is not as precise for older women [She meant younger here].  On that Nancy and I have great agreement.  So what their consensus was is that there are a lot of unnecessary screenings for that one life.  Now, if you’re that one life, it’s 100 percent.  I get that.  But their charge as an independent body was to look at the cumulative research as scientists.

Later, as Ambassador Brinker tried to simultaneously politicize the issue while claiming not to be, Dr. Nancy interjected with a righteous defense of science:

The key line that got me:

I would argue that we are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country if we don’t at times separate [science and politics]…

In a large measure, the promise of Obama, the hope he held out, was to break the hold that idiocrats have over our political debate. Thus far, this is a battle he does not seem to be winning.

The Maddow-Coburn Debate on Meet the Press; and the Necessity of Violence

Monday, August 17th, 2009

A few observations on watching Meet the Press yesterday. In a lot of ways, I think that show demonstrates the low quality of our political debate today. And yesterday’s show was one of the better, more factually on point, more honest, least full of crap episodes in recent memory. It wasn’t about “gotcha” moments as much as policy and politics. No one there was seriously promoting any of the blatant falsehoods that have determined much of the debate in the rest of the media – the “death panels” and Nazi imagery for example. In many ways, this became a very meta debate about the debate – which is actually a conversation I think we need to have as a country.

David Gregory though seemed determined to take each moment that threatened to lead to acutal honest conflict or insight and “move on” as quickly as possible. With the participants wanting to argue it out, they would talk over him trying to make their point before he ended the game prematurely. Maddow created a few insightful moments with her apparently well-researched appearance. She wasn’t as willing to let the bullshit slide as the others at the table – and she had papers full of research in front of her. Gregory asked some good questions, but let the bull slide. For example, here he asked a serious question of Senator Tom Coburn:

MR. GREGORY: [L]et’s talk about the tone of the debate.  There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president.  Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same.  And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

That has become a motto for violence against the government.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma.  When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government.  But we’ve earned it.  You know, this debate isn’t about health care.  Health care’s the symptom.  The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run–50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.  You…

MR. GREGORY:  That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there.  I’m talking about the tone.  I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN:  The, the—but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government.  What, what is the genesis behind people going to such extreme statements?  What is it?  We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it’s much worse than when Tom was the, the, the leader of the Senate.  We have, we have raised the question of whether or not we’re legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests.  And that’s the question.

For me that exchange was a head-turning moment. Asked to confront a man who has adopted the same quote that a terrorist did when attacking a building in his own state, a man who is using extreme rhetoric that suggests he would be in favor of assassination, he refuses to condemn him outright. He hedges; he wants us to understand that man – to see him as responding to a world that’s unfair to him.

Gregory at this point seems to let the matter go – but Maddow takes Coburn on. You can tell she’s taken aback too:

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a right wing Republican Senator would plead for “understanding” in quasi-defense of extreme right wing rhetoric and threats of violence. After all – what else can he expect?

I suppose my point is: if any people out there take Sarah Palin’s statement that children will be put to death by “death panels” if Obama’s health care plan succeeds seriously; if any people out there seriously believe a Holocaust is about to take place if this health care reform is passed; if they believe that their children are going to be indoctrinated into an atheistic faith in Obama if health care passes; if they believe that their grandparents of their children are in danger – if someone believes any or all of these things, then violence is justified.

We make heroes out of the men who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. If we now say that Obama is another Hitler, aren’t we advocating assasination? If we say our child will be killed by Obama, aren’t we implicitly endorsing violence to protect our children?

How can we – as a society – have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of the specific health reforms being considered with this unhinged debate? We can’t. Instead, we just have to let the unsustainable status quo stay in place.

How Pakistan Is Like AIG

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

nex·us n.pl. nexus or -us·es.

  1. A means of connection; a link or tie: “this nexus between New York’s . . . real-estate investors and its . . . politicians” (Wall Street Journal).
  2. A connected series or group.
  3. The core or center: “The real nexus of the money culture [was] Wall Street” (Bill Barol).

[Latin, from past participle of nectere, to bind.]

This Sunday, America witnessed Pakistani President Zardari’s disgraceful performance on Meet the Press. He pandered; he obfuscated; he shirked any responsibility or blame; he turned briefly eloquent – and then outrageously self-righteous. It was clear that he is not one tenth the politician his wife was – and it seems not one tenth the leader. She may have been corrupt (as it seems was he) – but he appears to lack her communicative gifts or her aptitude for politics. On top of it, his management style seems be Bush-level incompetence. The most ridiculous point Zardari tried was to invoke AIG’s bailout as an argument to give more money to Pakistan.

David Gregory – to his credit – asks the tough question – the question that needs to be asked of Pakistan’s leader (especially given stories like this) although Gregory does manage to shift responsibility for the criticism of Zardari off to another reporter:

The question a lot of people ask is are you – is Pakistan really committed to that war?  In The New York Times Dexter Filkins, who, who’s reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan, writes this:  “Whose side is Pakistan really on?  …  Little in Pakistan is what it appears.  For years, the survival of Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders has depended on a double game:  assuring the United States that they were vigorously repressing Islamic militants–and in some cases actually doing so–while simultaneously tolerating and assisting the same militants.  From the anti-Soviet fighters of the 1980s and the Taliban of the 1990s to the homegrown militants of today, Pakistan’s leaders have been both public enemies and private friends.  When the game works, it reaps great rewards:  billions in aid to boost the Pakistani economy and military and Islamist proxies to extend the government’s reach into Afghanistan and India.”

Zardari’s responded:

[W]hat billions are you talking about?  Like I said, a billion dollar a year?  That’s not even – altogether, this aid package is not even one tenth of what you gave AIG.  So let’s face it; we need, in fact, much more help.

This isn’t the first time Zardari has found it prudent to invoke AIG to justify giving more billions to Pakistan – he apparently disconcerted lawmakers a few days earlier this week – as the New York Times reported:

[W]hen he asked for financial assistance, he likened it to the government’s bailout of the troubled insurance giant, American International Group.

While it is probably true that Zardari needs more funds – his pique at being asked to justify these funds is galling – especially when so much of it was apparently spent preparing Pakistan’s military to fight India instead of the Taliban. Though this analogy is politically stupid – it does bring up an interesting parallel.

AIG has been the nexus of the financial crisis in much the same way that Pakistan is the center of the threat of strategic terrorism. 

When synthetic CDOs were invented, they were structured in such a way as to create positions that were safer than AAA-rated debt. (An explanation of what this means here.) These positions were called super-senior. Yet the ever “cautious” bankers decided to hedge against even these supposedly risk-free positions – allowing them to free up more capital, so that for the purposes of regulation, it was treated as if they had not lent out any money at all. They decided to buy insurance, calling this insurance a credit default swap, hedging against the risk that even this super-safe investment would go bad. There was one big player in this, one firm that provided so much of this insurance which led to this boom in lending and enormous leveraged positions – AIG – who insured these super-safe debts with nary a plan to deal with defaults. After all – these debts were super-senior – there would only be defaults if historically unprecedented numbers of these mortgages went south. (Precedent only went back forty years or so with modern macroeconomic record-keeping.) AIG Financial – a small part of the AIG empire which spanned insurance across dozens of industries around the world – decided to leverage the entire company to insure these products – leading to enormous profits in the short-term – and systematic risk as soon as things went bad. If AIG had not been able to pay on its insurance to the big banks, things would likely have been worse.

Pakistan meanwhile is the land of Dick Cheney’s nightmares, where WMDs, nuclear weapons, terrorists, and a teetering state all exist. Pakistan combines all of the elements national security experts fear could have disasterous consequences if they come together. As Barton Gellman describes Pakistan’s importance in his excellent biography of Dick Cheney:

The nexus, if it was anywhere, was in Pakistan – a nuclear state whose national hero sold parts to the highest bidder, whose intelligence service backed the Taliban, and whose North-West Frontier Province became a refugre for al Qaeda.

What it comes down to is that both are too big – and too connected – to fail. Both have had billions of American dollars pumped into them to prop them up. Both have prompted outrage as they have seemed to use this money to benefit themselves and not for the purposes it was intended. Both are controlled by leaders whose hands were far from clean in creating the current crisis. Neither the leadership of Pakistan nor the leadership of AIG have taken responsibility for the crisis that occurred oin their watch – in their realm of control – blaming America and the world at large for their problems instead.  Perhaps because of this, the leadership of both seem to believe that they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts rather than held accountable for their significant failures. Yet even so, the costs of the failure of either is likely catastrophic.

Maybe this is the point Zardari was trying to make – his way of taunting us with the fact that he knows we cannot allow him to fail – just like AIG.

[Image by cogito ergo imago licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Yes, the Senate Can Refuse to Seat Roland Burris

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Ever since Governor Blagojevich announced his appointment of Roland Burris to take Obama’s Senate seat, the Conventional Wisdom has been that while Blagojevich’s actions are unseemly they are within the law – and more importantly, that Harry Reid and the rest of the Senate can’t do anything to stop Burris from being seated. The LA Times opined:

Exasperated as they are at being outfoxed by Blagojevich, his colleagues and critics must face the fact that he is still the governor of Illinois and empowered to appoint an interim U.S. senator. It’s not a pretty situation, but it’s the law.

The Wall Street Journal suddenly discovered the Constitution and the Rule of Law after eight years of amnesia1 and declared that this was a matter of “Harry Reid v. the Constitution,” claiming without equivocation that Blagojevich had “every legal right” to appoint Burris, that the “Beltway Democrats can’t inject themselves into what is clearly a matter of Illinois law,” and finally that:

Nowhere in the Constitution is there a “qualification” saying that a Senator must not have been appointed by an embarrassing Illinois Governor…now that Mr. Burris has been appointed, Mr. Reid can’t legally deny him his seat. If this is the way Democrats are going to use their new monopoly on Beltway power even against a member of their own party, we’re in for an ugly couple of years.

David Gregory, temporarily sans smirk, parroted the same Conventional Wisdom on this morning’s Meet the Press.

This Conventional Wisdom holds that the 1969 Supreme Court case of Powell v. McCormack limits the Senate’s power to take action pursuant to Article I, Section 5 of the Constitition. The Article states:

Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members…

Powell limited this power by holding that:

In judging the qualifications of its members under Art. I, § 5, Congress is limited to the standing qualifications expressly prescribed by the Constitution.

What the LA Times and Wall Street Journal and David Gregory fail to take into account – whether deliberately or not is unclear – is that the Powell case revolved around the question of whether the Congress could judge the qualifications of a member and exclude him or her for bad conduct while Reid is making his case under the Senate’s power to judge the process by which it’s members are selected or elected. On Meet the Press, Reid said that he didn’t know of anything Burris had done wrong or any qualification he lacked. Rather Reid pointed to the tainted process which lead to Burris’s appointment as the problem. This is an entirely separate issue from the one decided in Powell – in which a duly elected Congressman was denied his seat for misconduct during the previous session of Congress:

Our examination of the relevant historical materials leads us to the conclusion that …the Constitution leaves the House without authority to exclude any person, duly elected by his constituents, who meets all the requirements for membership expressly prescribed in the Constitution.

The key phrase being “duly elected.” The Senate still has the power to judge the returns and the elections – and this power was not limited by Powell. The corruption of the process leading to Burris’s appointment is also what Reid & co. keep harping on – rather than Burris’s qualifications. An election of a Senator marred by corruption, like a corrupt appointment, is to be judged by the Senate. Akhil Reed Amar and Josh Chafetz explain the history of this power and it’s previous invocations.

If Reid chooses to push this claim of Constitutional authority and refuses to seat Burris, he may well prevail, proving once again John Kenneth Galbraith’s prescience:

The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.

  1. That’s unfair. The Journal always remembers to invoke the Constitution when slamming Democrats. It only ignores it when Republicans are acting unconstitutionally. []

David Gregory: Goofily Hollow

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Slate’s Mickey Kaus and Troy Patterson sum up David Gregory’s presense as the new anchor of Meet the Press aptly.

Kaus:

Gregory seems not straightforwardly dull, but somehow goofily hollow.

Patterson:

It probably makes no difference to the show’s content, but the new face of Meet the Press wears a contented smirk.