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January 27, 2013

The Question Never Asked

Secrectary of State Hillary Clinton was the star this past week when she testified before Congress.  The ostensible purpose for her visit to Capitol Hill was to shed some light on why there was no help for the four Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th of last year.  We still don't know.  But the highlight moment was her confrontation with Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin over the tale told by UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday following the attacks. 

Johnson to Clinton: “We were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that — an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.”

Clinton to Johnson: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and to prevent it from ever happening again.”

What a moment for Hillary.  Members of the left leaning press were ecstatic. 

It was refreshing to see someone fire back at the kind of rudeness that has come to typify the new brand of GOP swarming Capitol Hill.


With each of these experiences, Clinton learned the do’s and don’ts of public combat, especially with Republicans. That she gave as good as she got from Johnson bespoke a woman comfortable enough in her own skin and with her considerable stature to tell Johnson to stuff it. Brava!

A beautiful bit of double talk, though.  A nonsensical response.  What difference does it make, who did it and why — "Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans?" — when our job is to find out who did it and why — "It is our job to figure out what happened and to prevent it from ever happening again?”

Let's leave that aside.  The more important questions arose months earlier.  Those questions centered around apparent refusals to beef up security at the consulate in Benghazi, even in the face of repeated requests for more of it.

Eric Nordstrom earlier told congressional investigators that he had requested more security but that request was blocked by a department policy to "normalize operations and reduce security resources." Under questioning, though, he said he had sought mainly to prevent any reduction in staff, rather than have a big increase.

How about those words "department policy?"  There was a department policy to "normalize operations."  Nordstrom went on to say that State Department officers carried out their duties.

"I'm confident that the committee will conclude that Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service and Mission Libya officers conducted themselves professionally and with careful attention to managing people and budgets in a way that reflects the gravity of their task," Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom's testimony squares with that from another State Department official who also said that they had done what they were supposed to do.

"We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11," said Charlene Lamb, the deputy secretary of state for diplomatic security in charge of protecting American embassies and consulates around the world.

How can one say they had assigned the "correct number of assets" when four Americans wound up dead?  There were certainly not enough security forces to protect them or evacuate them.  Ah, but they had "the correct number of assets" according to department policy.

Which brings us to the real question.  Who made up the policy dictating that the consulate in Benghazi, Libya would normalize operations?  We think we know who carried it out.

The highest-ranking official caught up in the scandal, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Boswell, has not “resigned” from government service, as officials said last week. He is just switching desks. And the other three are simply on administrative leave and are expected back.

The four were made out to be sacrificial lambs in the wake of a scathing report issued last week that found that the US compound in Benghazi, Libya, was left vulnerable to attack because of “grossly inadequate” security.

But nobody seems anxious to find out, whose policy was it.  In a full day of testimony nobody asked our resurgent rock star Hillary Clinton if she's the one who formulated it.  And if it wasn't Hillary, wouldn't it have to have been Barack Obama?  Strange that no one cares to know, because if Hillary and her State Department colleagues are to be believed, it was department policy — the one that said normalize operations in Benghazi — that was responsible for four American deaths. 

It's no surprise the media couldn't be bothered with asking it.  It's done and over now.  Hillary's 2016 aspirations remain viable.  That's all that really matters, after all.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 15, 2013

Sandy and the Bureaucrats

Roger Kimball, columnist at PJMedia, has been having a time of it with FEMA and his local Zoning Authority ever since his house was wrecked by Hurricane Sandy.

Yet it wasn't until the workmen we hired had ripped apart most of the first floor that the phrase "building permit" first wafted past us. Turns out we needed one. "What, to repair our own house we need a building permit?"

Of course.

Before you could get a building permit, however, you had to be approved by the Zoning Authority. And Zoning—citing FEMA regulations—would force you to bring the house "up to code," which in many cases meant elevating the house by several feet. Now, elevating your house is very expensive and time consuming—not because of the actual raising, which takes just a day or two, but because of the required permits.

Kafka would have liked the zoning folks.


It's not only us, of course. Thousands upon thousands have been displaced, but the bullying pedantry of the zoning establishment never wavers. While our house stands empty, the city authorities even showed a sense of humor by sending us a bill for property taxes. For a house they won't let us repair.

If this were happening any place but the United States you could easily think somebody has an eye on that property and wants Roger Kimball out of it. 

Posted by Tom Bowler at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 10, 2013

James Buchanan 1919-2013

James Buchanan, 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, died yesterday at the age of 93.

Among his conclusions was that public officials often act in their own self-interest instead of the public's interest. Thus, he argued, bureaucracies tend to grow and politicians tend to favor new spending and tax cuts, leaving the bills for the future.

To prevent such choices, Mr. Buchanan advocated a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, to force politicians to curtail spending.

Within the field of economics, Mr. Buchanan's ideas were seen as a challenge to John Maynard Keynes, who called for government intervention in the economy, including running up budget deficits, to provide stimulus in lean times.

Judging by today's standards of government intervention Keynes has certainly withstood Buchanan's challenge.  We are watching Buchanan's theories played out right before our eyes.

So, for example, he could explain why bureaucracies had an incentive to expand their turf in order to increase their financial resources and power. Or why politicians keep tax rates high so they can dole out special credits and exemptions for those who would reward those same politicians. Or why pork-barrel politics is the abiding concern of legislators.

Buchanan acknowledged that public-choice analysis had not "dislodged the prevailing socialist mindset in the academies." But he could rightfully claim to be a major influence in helping the public understand why the modern state produces such poor outcomes. His work should be required reading for everyone in a government job.

I'm not sure how helpful that reading assignment would be for the rest of us.  Let me re-word that.  I'm not sure how helpful it would be for the rest of us for everyone in government to complete the reading assignment.  Buchanan's work would most likely become a "How to..." manual for aspiring potentates.

The theme of his life's work is best summarized in the title of his 1997 article "Politics Without Romance." With longtime colleague Gordon Tullock, Jim launched a research program—public-choice economics—that challenged the widespread notion that politicians in democratic societies are more nobly motivated and trustworthy than are business people and other private-sector actors. In a wide river of books and papers, Jim warned against the foolishness of romanticizing government.

It's surprising and more than a little disheartening how many people subscribe to the notion that government actors are so much more nobly motivated than the rest of us.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 05:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 09, 2013

Prosecutorial Discretion

When National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," host David Gregory confronted him with a high capacity magazine in his hand and asked,

“Here’s a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets,” Gregory says. “Now, isn’t it possible that if we got rid of these” — he sets it down and picks up a smaller one — “if we replaced them and said, ‘Well, you can only have a magazine that carries five bullets or 10 bullets,’ isn’t it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?”

The answer is, "No," it won't reduce the carnage, and that's how Wayne LaPierre responded.  But the more interesting thing about their conversation is that it happened in Washington, DC where possession of a 30-round magazines, such as the one in David Gregory's hand at the time, is already illegal.  What's more, NBC asked the DC police, would it be OK if they used the magazine as a prop.  The answer was "No."

“NBC contacted [D.C. police] inquiring if they could utilize a high capacity magazine for their segment. NBC was informed that possession of a high capacity magazines is not permissible and their request was denied. This matter is currently being investigated.” A police spokeswoman confirmed that the e-mail was authentic.

Gregory appears to have used a large-capacity ammunition magazine anyway.

The DC police had little choice but to investigate.  The result?  The case has been given to the DC Office of the Attorney General

In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said her department has “completed the investigation into this matter, and the case has been presented to the OAG for a determination of the prosecutorial merit of the case.”

Possessing a magazine capable of holding 10 or more rounds of ammunition, even if empty, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Should Gregory, the fabulously wealthy host of NBC's award winning "Meet the Press," be thrown in jail because he used a prop for dramatic effect while he interviewed the CEO of the National Rifle Association?  Even the NRA President doesn't think so.

NRA President David Keene told CNN last month that he did not think Gregory should be prosecuted, saying the incident shows “in a very graphic way, perhaps not intentionally, but in a graphic way just how silly some of these laws are.”

It's in the hands of the OAG.  DC's head prosecutor may exercise discretion

Prosecutorial discretion refers to the fact that under American law, government prosecuting attorneys have nearly absolute powers. A prosecuting attorney has power on various matters including those relating to choosing whether or not to bring criminal charges, deciding the nature of charges, plea bargaining and sentence recommendation. This discretion of the prosecuting attorney is called prosecutorial discretion.

Call me mean spirited, but I have mixed feelings about this.  More and more we find ourselves living in a society where laws are for the little people.  Like me.  I have no doubt that if I ever made the mistake of putting my hands on a high capacity magazine while inside the DC city limits and in sight of the law, David Gregory would heartily approve of me going to jail for a year and paying $1,000 for the privilege.

On the one hand I don't wish Gregory any harm.  But on the other, if punishing somebody for possession of a high capacity magazine is such a good idea, as he seemed to argue in his interview, shouldn't he, too, be subject to that law?

I can't wait to hear what the DC OAG decides.  David Gregory asked for permission to use the magazine and was refused.  By using it anyway, he deliberately and flagrantly broke the law.  On national TV, no less.  How's that for "in your face!"

It's true that this magazine law is pretty much useless, particularly as it applies to the situation with the host of "Meet the Press."  Why should anybody care if Gregory had a high capacity magazine when he didn't have a rifle to go with it?  There was no threat.  Nobody would be protected if he couldn't bring it onto his show.

The same is true of gun control laws in general.  They don't protect anybody.  Let me step back.  They have always been intended to protect someone, but it's not who you might think.  Gun contols laws were first imposed on U.S. citizens in the "Black Codes" of post Civil War south. 

Penal Code

Section 1. Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that no freedman, free Negro, or mulatto not in the military service of the United States government, and not licensed so to do by the board of police of his or her county, shall keep or carry firearms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk, or Bowie knife; and, on conviction thereof in the county court, shall be punished by fine, not exceeding $10, and pay the costs of such proceedings, and all such arms or ammunition shall be forfeited to the informer; and it shall be the duty of every civil and military officer to arrest any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto found with any such arms or ammunition, and cause him or her to be committed for trial in default of bail.

Back then it was the Ku Klux Klan that was looking for protection.  The Klan wanted their raids on black communities to be risk-free

Previous issues of America’s 1st Freedom have told the story of how the defeated Confederate states enacted the Black Codes, which explicitly restricted gun possession and carrying by the freedmen. Sometimes these laws facilitated the activities of the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan, America’s first gun control organization. The top item on the Klan’s agenda was confiscating arms from the freedmen, the better to terrorize them afterward.

Outraged, the Reconstruction Congress responded with the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1870—every one of them aimed at racial subordination in general and racist gun control laws in particular.

President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77), who would later serve as president of the National Rifle Association, vigorously prosecuted Klansmen, and even declared martial law when necessary to suppress KKK violence.

Reconstruction formally ended in 1877 with the inauguration of President Rutherford B. Hayes and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Even before that, white supremacist “redeemer” governments had taken over one Southern state after another.

Because the new 14th Amendment forbade any state to deny “the equal protection of the laws,” gun control statutes aimed at blacks could no longer be written in overtly racial terms. Instead, the South created racially neutral laws designed to disarm freedmen. Some laws prohibited inexpensive firearms while protecting more expensive military guns owned by former Confederate soldiers. Meanwhile, other laws imposed licensing systems or carry restrictions. As a Florida Supreme Court justice later acknowledged, these laws were “never intended to be applied to the white population” (Watson v. Stone, 1941).

In the bad old days the color of your skin determined the extent to which you were protected by law and whether or not you would be allowed use a gun to protect yourself.  The 14th amendment was adopted to fix that.  But as always has been the case, we have legislatures tailoring laws so that favored constituencies are exempted.

And when all else fails we have prosecutorial discretion. It will be interesting to see if it comes into play here.  After all, David Gregory is a very popular and influential guy.  Is there really any reason he should be subject to the same laws as you and me?  I'm sure he doesn't think so.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack