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About Border Security

The immigration bill might die in the Senate, as we know, because Marco Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight, signed off on the Gang of Eight's bill and then (after various tea party eruptions) decided that the Gang of Eight's bill was ridiculously soft on border security.

So now Republicans, following Texas Senator Jon Cornyn, are insisting on strict border security measures. But they're not so much strict as they are basically impossible. I understand that there is an extent to which Cornyn is merely representing the views of his constituents, provided you take his constituents to be not all Texans (the vast majority of the Latino ones) but the white conservative ones that are his base. But their demands and expectations aren't reasonable.

I just got wind of this op-ed that ran a while back in the Journal (the Journal?!?) by Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations about the impossibility of total security. He writes:

Does a secure border mean one in which no one is able to cross between the legal entry ports? The most secure border in modern history was probably the Cold War border between East and West Germany. To keep their people from leaving—logistically much easier than keeping others from entering—the East Germans built more than 700 watchtowers, sprinkled more than a million antipersonnel mines, created a deep no-man's zone of barbed wire and electric fencing, and deployed nearly 50 guards per square mile with shoot-to-kill orders. Even so about 1,000 people each year somehow managed to find a way across.

Fail to the R--skins

Roger Goodell's Dishonest Letter

(Warning: offensive words contained herein.) NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has written a letter to the 10 members of Congress pushing the Redskins matter that the name is just fine by him. He writes that it "has always been used in a respectful manner" and that the NFL of course is deeply sensitive to the diversity that has made this country great.

The main part is this though: "As you know may know, the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, a name that honored the courage and heritage of Native Americans. The following year, the name was changed to Redskins--in part to avoid confusion with the Boston baseball team of the same name, but also to honor the team's then-coach, William 'Lone Star' Dietz."

That's all true as far as it goes, but it leaves a lot out--you can tell by the switch to the fishy passive voice ("the name was changed"). The name was the brainchild of an open and avowed racist, George Preston Marshall. Also the team moved to Washington in short order, at which point any confusion with Boston's baseball Braves would have been purely theoretical. Also  Marshall fired Dietz after just two years and hired a white coach. Why didn't he change the name to Paleskins? The next coach was Eddie Casey. Sounds maybe Irish. Why didn't Marshall change the name to the Micks?

I suspect two reasons. First, because Marshall didn't hate white people, even Irish ones. Second, because Micks would have been considered beyond the (as it were) pale. Because Irish-Americans had political power. Native Americans had none. And that's how Redskins became "okay." It's that simple. I feel certain Goodell understands this, he's just too cowardly to say it. Appalling. I like the idea of one of my recent tweeters, who suggests referring to the team as the Washington Hebes until owner Dan Snyder comes to his senses.

Sillier and Sillier

More Details on IRS Approvals

In the column that went up this morning, which sits just below this post, I made reference to an analysis of the IRS tax-exempt status decisions from the period in question. I just mentioned it in passing because I didn't have the space to go into it, but I wanted to go into it in more detail, because I think it really shows what a nothing this "scandal" is.

This study is by Martin Sullvan of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit web site that does thorough news and analysis of everything tax-related from around the world. I confess I've never heard of the place until last week, but it doesn't sound very Kenyan or socialist to me. Anyway, Sullivan finds that "a substantial minority" of applications held up to heightened scrutiny were from non-conservative groups. It's a little confusingly written, but the last sentence is the one that matters:

The IRS has helped somewhat by releasing a list of all the "centralized" groups (that is, organizations whose applications were referred to specialists for closer review) that were granted tax-exempt status as of May 9, 2013. Though the overlap between the subset and the full set of centralized groups isn't perfect, the list suggests that the majority of groups selected for extra scrutiny probably matched the political criteria the IRS used and backed conservative causes, the Tea Party, or limited government generally. But a substantial minority—almost one-third of the subset—did not fit that description.

So you have to ask yourself, what sort of political conspiracy to silence the other side is one-third directed at its own side? I know, I know, there's always an answer. They did that one-third for cover, Tomasky, you stooge! Right.


Issa’s Missing Testimony

Why won’t the right-wing congressman release the full transcript of his IRS investigation? Michael Tomasky has a theory.

All right, let’s get back to the IRS. While everyone was focused on the Edward Snowden revelations, we had an interesting development in the IRS matter that throws another several gallons of ice-cold water on Darrell Issa’s alleged case against the Obama administration—and that raises some interesting questions about how Issa and his staff are using the information they have obtained. Republicans have been hoping to ride this horse into 2014 and beyond, but it may be ready for the glue factory already.

IRS Investigation

Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel (left) talks with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (right), accompanied by the committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, on June 6 after he testified before the committee’s hearing regarding IRS conference spending. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Late last week, a few news stories appeared quoting some employees of the IRS Cincinnati office saying quasi-ominous things about being directed from Washington to do this or that. This CBS News article provides a good example. One beleaguered IRS employee, Elizabeth Hofacre, said she was instructed to clear all letters she sent to tea party groups through an IRS lawyer in Washington—which to said groups naturally brings to mind the image of this lawyer hand-delivering the letters to Obama himself as the two of them laugh the laughter of slippery cosmopolitans who’ve hoodwinked the booboisie yet again.

These remarks by Hofacre and others were made in secret session to Issa’s oversight committee, which has transcripts of these conversations. CBS, according to the article, reviewed the transcripts from “some” of the interviews. It seems obvious that reporters were shown mainly the bits that sounded scintillating and kept the story alive.

The new Pew poll puts the matter plainly. Americans assume Big Brother is watching, and they aren't particularly upset about it:

A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority – 41% – say it is unacceptable. And while the public is more evenly divided over the government’s monitoring of email and other online activities to prevent possible terrorism, these views are largely unchanged since 2002, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now it's true, 41 percent is a substantial minority, but there is evidence that a good chunk of that is driven by politics. The guy from Pew was on NPR this morning, and he said that more Republicans are expressing opposition now (because Obama is the president) just as more Democrats used to express opposition (because Bush was). The solid, doesn't-matter-which-party level of opposition would seem to be closer to 30 percent or 25, or maybe even a little less.

The polls always ask people about the trade off between civil liberties and fighting terrorism, but I have a hunch there's something else at work here, too, which has nothing to do with terrorism. Let's call it the Karmic Information Trade-Off, or, alternatively, the Best Thai Restaurant in Bozeman Trade-Off.

Civil Liberties

The Leaker and the Right

Conservatives may lionize Edward Snowden now, says Michael Tomasky, but ultimately his actions are going to tear apart the GOP.

Here’s something I’ll certainly be keeping one eye fixed on as the Edward Snowden story advances: the degree to which the American right takes him up as a cause célèbre. They’re up a tree either way. If they do, then they’re obviously guilty of the rankest hypocrisy imaginable, because we all know that if Snowden had come forward during George W. Bush’s presidency, the right-wing media would by now have sniffed out every unsavory fact about his life (and a hefty mountain of fiction) in an effort to tar him. If they don’t, then they’ve lost an opportunity to sully Barack Obama. Since they like smearing Obama a lot more than they care about hypocrisy, my guess is that they will lionize him, as some already are. But in the long run, doing that will only expose how deep the rifts are between the national-security right and the libertarian right, and this issue will only extend and intensify those disagreements.


Glenn Beck and Rand Paul. (Getty)

First out of the gate Sunday was Glenn Beck, who tweeted in the late afternoon, not too long after The Guardian posted the interview with Snowden: “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” Shortly thereafter, another: “Courage finally. Real. Steady. Thoughtful. Transparent. Willing to accept the consequences. Inspire w/Malice toward none.” And two hours after that: “The NSA patriot leaker is just yet another chance for America to regain her moral compass and set things right. No red or blue JUST TRUTH.”

Beck, I will concede, has a degree of credibility on the red/blue issue. He criticizes Republicans sometimes. Even so, it amounts to a speck of dust when set against his near-daily sermons (for years now) about liberal and Democratic fascism. So I wonder about the degree to which Beck would have hopped up to throw rose petals at young Snowden’s feet if he’d come forward in this way under the Bush administration.

GOP Rage

Obama Hatred and the IRS

Nothing will stop Republicans from trying to turn the IRS scandal into Watergate, says Michael Tomasky. They simply despise Obama too much to settle for anything less.

So now we know a little more officially than we did before that the Republican Party higher-ups know or at least suspect that there’s likely no actual political scandal in the IRS matter, and that they’re letting Darrell Issa have his fun and make a fool of himself just for the sake of doing whatever random damage to Barack Obama they can in his remaining time in office. An article by Shane Goldmacher in National Journal yesterday, when read properly between the lines, says as much. And if they can’t get him while he’s in office, by ginning up some flimsy reason to open impeachment hearings, they’ll hound him on his way out the door and afterward, trying to add words like “corrupt” and “tarnished” to the first paragraphs of historical summations of his tenure. That’s all this is really about—their base’s rage at the continued existence of Barack Obama, and their own twisted craving to acknowledge and stoke it.

Darrell Issa

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) leads a hearing on Benghazi on Capitol Hill, May 8, 2013. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The Goldmacher piece makes the commonsensical and nonideological observation that you might think that Issa, who has been out there throwing unproven allegations against the wall like Oscar Madison did Felix Unger’s linguine, would be reined in a bit by his party. This is especially so after calling Jay Carney a “paid liar” and backing it up with nothing specific. In fairness, a couple of Republicans—interestingly, Lindsey Graham and John McCain chief among them—did urge a holding of the horses after that one.

But by and large, Republicans are perfectly happy for Issa to keep stirring the pot. Eric Cantor—this happened after the “paid liar” remark—singled Issa out for praise at a closed-door meeting of the House GOP on Tuesday. At a press conference the same day, Cantor twice refused to criticize Issa even mildly.

Blistering editorial today from the Newark Star-Ledger:

Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to hold the U.S. Senate election three weeks before the general election in November is a shameless move that will waste at least $12 million and risk the integrity of the vote. For him to present it as a high-minded attempt to empower voters shows what nerve the guy has.

There is no legitimate reason to hold two separate elections, and the reason he’s doing it is purely self-serving. He calculates that more Democratic voters will show up and cast ballots against him if a popular Democratic candidate like Newark Mayor Cory Booker is on the ballot as well. Given the big lead the governor has already, the greed here is striking: He apparently wants to run up his margin of victory as a credential for his 2016 presidential campaign.

The editorial goes on to raise an interesting question that hadn't occurred to me. If somehow the October special is close and the results are contested, (some) voting machines will have to be impounded as the fight plays out, which the writer says typically takes "a month or two." The editorial notes that Democrats may have grounds to sue because of this.

Clever Fellow

Voter Suppression, Chris Christie Style

So this is all pretty obvious, innit? Chris Christie calls a special election for the Lautenberg Senate seat for October, even though there is already an election scheduled for November. He's running for reelection in that one.

So why October? He says he is planning on appointing an interim person here soon, so what's the diff in that person serving until October or November? It's just a month. In having an extra election, he's costing his state an extra $12 million.

What could the reason be? Gee, do you think it could have anything to do with the fact that the Democratic Senate candidate is going to be Cory Booker, who is black, and who will draw African American voters to the polls in large numbers? So let all those black voters get their electoral ya-ya's out in October, see, and they'll stay home in November and not vote against him. And he'll run up a huge margin and keep alive his 2016 prospects, dimmed though they might have been by the stuffed animal affair. Sidenote: Keeping the Booker election off the November card can't hurt state and local GOP candidates, either.

It's smart, but it's sooooo obvious. The questions will be: 1, will the newspaper editorialists and other civic guardians complain about that $12 million such that it becomes an issue? 2, will African American voters care enough about being played like this to come out in large numbers in November?


Obama’s Economic Triumph

It’s increasingly clear that the president has steered the country back from the brink—and, in the process, exposed (yet again) the central lie of conservative economics.

This Friday morning will bring the new jobs numbers. If recent months and indicators are any sign, the news will be at least pretty good, and maybe really good—
remember, the last several months have all been revised upward by significant amounts after the initial estimates. Yes, there is still a ways to go. But everything is moving in the right direction. The president and his people jumped the gun pretty badly in 2010 with their talk of “Recovery Summer.” But 2013 might finally be Recovery Summer. And by next summer, most experts say, the unemployment rate really will be back down to the normal range. In other words, the Republicans are about out of chances to do what they’ve been trying to do since Barack Obama took office—i.e., wreck the economy. Now more than ever, Obama has to ignore these people and get through the next three-plus years just trying to make sure they can’t screw up the economy any worse than they already have.


New homes are under construction at a housing development on March 6, 2013, in Gilbert, Arizona. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Let’s first review some recent economic news. Consumer confidence is at a five-year high. Personal debt is back to normal levels, which is a big deal. Housing investment is up, real-estate prices are rebounding everywhere, the stock market is breaking records. The political-economic news has been no less comforting to the right. Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s arguments against higher deficit-spending have been debunked. And as winter melted into spring, with oddly little commentary, Obama soared past George W. Bush in the net job-creation sweepstakes: Obama has now created a net positive of more than 1.6 million jobs in four-and-a-half years, which is better than Bush’s mark of 1.08 million in all eight of his years.

Many economists believe that things would be going even better right now without the austerity imposed on us by the Republicans who run the House of Representatives. It is true—and this is one point on which liberals, me included, haven’t been entirely consistent—that “austerity” also includes the higher taxes on the rich achieved through the fiscal-cliff deal, and the end of the 2 percent payroll tax holiday. So Obama does bear some responsibility for those particular forms of austerity, although the budget cuts the GOP insisted on have had considerably more negative impact on the economy than the tax increases.

Best Wishes

On Frum's Departure

David Frum is taking a little break from things, he announced on his Beast blog today. You should read his farewell-for-now post, and the five difficult pieces of advice he offers for conservative "reformers," a word that I initially did not surround in irony quote marks, but stared at and thought the phrase looked too unserious to exist without them.

Frum advises these reformers that they need to take climate change seriously, for one thing, and for another, that they do need to the thing I've been writing about and acknowledge that the rage is harmful. David writes:

Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.

My one disagreement with Frum here would be over the phrase "if only to themselves." What good does that do? I would imagine that these men do admit all this to themselves. I would hope so. That's actually an interesting question. But the point is to write about it or say about if they believe it. I wonder how many Republican reformers believe the IRS scandal is an agency scandal.


The GOP and the Young

Young people don't like the GOP. From Politico's write-up of the new 95-page report on why, commissioned by Big Daddy Reince:

In the report, the young Republican activists acknowledge their party has suffered significant damage in recent years. A sampling of the critique on:

Gay marriage: “On the ‘open-minded’ issue … [w]e will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table.”

Hispanics: “Latino voters … tend to think the GOP couldn’t care less about them.”


The Racist Redskins

There’s a debate brewing—yet again—about whether the name of Washington’s football team is racist. Of course it is, says Michael Tomasky.

When George Preston Marshall died in 1969, he left some money to his children but directed that the bulk of his estate be used to set up a foundation in his name. He attached, however, one firm condition: that the foundation, operating out of Washington, D.C., should not direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” Think about that. This was not 1929 or 1949. Even in 1960 such a diktat might have been, well, “understandable” in a Southern city such as Washington then was. But 1969; “in any form.”

Washington Redskins

A Washington Redskins helmet during day two of the 2009 NFL Draft in New York. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

This is the man who gave the Washington Redskins their name. He was one of the most despicable racists in the American sporting arena of the entire 20th century. He thought Redskins was funny, just as he thought the war paint and feather headdress he made the head coach wear were funny. And this is the legacy that current Redskins owner Dan Snyder wants to uphold?

You’ve been reading about this name lately. More and more people are calling for the team to change it. There is legislation in Congress, based on the fact that under trademark legislation passed in 1946, a corporate “mark” can’t be disparaging of a people or group. Snyder says he’ll change the name approximately never (“and you can put that in all caps”). Most Americans, and most Redskins fans, agree with him. But all that shows is that those Americans and fans don’t know the history. Snyder, presumably, does. He should be ashamed.


Who's Mark Pryor Kidding?

Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor has a new reelection ad up today in which he says: “The mayor of New York City is running ADS again me, because I oppose President Obama’s gun-control legislation. … I’m Mark Pryor. And I approve this message because NO ONE from New York or Washington tells ME what to do. I listen to ARKANSAS.”

New poll yesterday:

In Georgia there's 71/22 support for them, in Tennessee it's 67/26, and in Arkansas it's 60/31. Female voters that the Republican Party really needs to reach out to if it's going to be successful moving forward are even more supportive of background checks. They favor them 81/12 in Georgia, 73/21 in Tennessee, and 67/25 in Arkansas.

The support for stronger background check laws cuts across party lines in all three of these states. In Georgia Democrats favor them 82/10, independents do 67/27, and Republicans do 63/30. In Tennessee Democrats give them 88/8 support, independents favor them at a 61/29 clip, and Republicans do 53/38. And in Arkansas the numbers are 85/10 with Democrats, 48/43 with Republicans, and 45/43 with independents.

GOP Real and Imagined

Inter-Galactic Reform Conservatism

Ross Douthat posted what seems to me the clearest and simplest explication of what exactly "reform conservatism" is, the set of doctines being advanced by the handful of pundit-intellectuals I wrote about the other day.

Douthat's program proceeds from two assumptions and is based on six principles. The assumptions are that stagnation is our great economic problem (rather than inequality per se), and that New Deal-Great Society programs and policies make this problem worse. Fair enough. They'd hardly be conservatives if they believed otherwise.

The six bullet points range from the Ryanesque and the stuff that Ryan probably believes but was smart enough to lie about during a presidential campaign (changing Medicare to premium support; means-testing Social Security and raising the retirement age) to things that are more moderate, like tax reform that reduces the burden on working parents and the middle class. On immigration, amnesty is part of the program but only after other enforcement measures are put in place. It would do nothing about climate change and would embrace but soft-pedal and rebrand social conservatism.

Douthat is a smart guy, I am grateful for his nice plug for Democracy a few months ago. And his program is fine. Not something I'd be for, obviously, but, compared to what we have today, it is slightly less hard-core in a few particulars. For example it at least acknowledges that the GOP should do something about health care, which the legislative, actual Republican Party by and large doesn't acknowledge.

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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