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- Part 2

dwl

Feb 272012
 

I may not know what I think I know, you know?

So I’ve been try­ing to come to some under­stand­ing about how very bright peo­ple, like some very close bio­log­i­cal rel­a­tives of mine, can see the polit­i­cal land­scape so dif­fer­ently than I do.

Be warned; I’m about to get all for­mal essay on you…

1.    Cog­ni­tive hubris: each of us believes that his map of the world is more accu­rate than it really is.

2.    Rad­i­cal igno­rance: when it comes to com­plex social phe­nom­ena, our maps are highly inaccurate.

Cog­ni­tive hubris can explain large, per­sis­tent dis­agree­ments over such issues as finan­cial reg­u­la­tion and Key­ne­sian fis­cal stimulus.

Cog­ni­tive hubris is par­tic­u­larly trou­ble­some when com­bined with rad­i­cal igno­rance. Indeed, this con­fig­u­ra­tion jus­ti­fies lim­it­ing gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion in order to avoid set­ting up sys­tems that are exces­sively fragile.

Kah­ne­man on Hubris

“Our com­fort­ing con­vic­tion that the world makes sense rests on a secure foun­da­tion: our almost unlim­ited abil­ity to ignore our igno­rance.” — Daniel Kah­ne­man1

Cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Think­ing Fast and Slow, is a cap­stone to a dis­tin­guished career spent doc­u­ment­ing the sys­tem­atic flaws in human rea­son­ing. He finds it use­ful to describe us as hav­ing two sys­tems for thinking.

Sys­tem One, as he calls it, is quick, intu­itive, and deci­sive. It may be described as often wrong but never in doubt. Sys­tem One is always active and plays a role in every deci­sion that we make because it oper­ates rapidly and unconsciously.

Sys­tem Two is delib­er­a­tive and log­i­cal. In prin­ci­ple, Sys­tem Two can detect and cor­rect the errors of Sys­tem One. How­ever, Sys­tem Two has lim­ited capac­ity, and often we do not invoke it before arriv­ing at a con­clu­sion. Even worse, we may deploy Sys­tem Two to ratio­nal­ize the con­clu­sions of Sys­tem One, rather than to ques­tion those con­clu­sions and sug­gest appro­pri­ate changes.

Sup­pose you were to ask your­self how well you under­stand the world around you. How accu­rate is your map of reality?

If you inter­ro­gate Sys­tem Two, it might reply, “There are many phe­nom­ena about which I know lit­tle. In the grand scheme of things, I am just blindly grop­ing through a world that is far too com­plex for me to pos­si­bly understand.”

How­ever, if you were to inter­ro­gate Sys­tem One, it might reply, “My map is ter­rific. Why, I am very nearly omniscient!”

Evi­dently, in order to per­form its func­tion, Sys­tem One has to have con­fi­dence in its map. Indeed, else­where Kah­ne­man has told a story of a group of Swiss sol­diers who were lost in the Alps because of bad weather. One of them real­ized he had a map. Only after they had suc­cess­fully climbed down to safety did any­one dis­cover that it was a map of the Pyre­nees. Kah­ne­man tells that story in the con­text of dis­cussing eco­nomic and finan­cial mod­els. Even if those maps are wrong, we still feel bet­ter when using them.2

In fact, a num­ber of the cog­ni­tive biases that Kah­ne­man and other psy­chol­o­gists have doc­u­mented would appear to serve as defense mech­a­nisms, enabling the indi­vid­ual to hold onto the view that his map is the cor­rect one. For exam­ple, there is con­fir­ma­tion bias, which is the ten­dency to be less skep­ti­cal toward evi­dence in sup­port of one’s views than toward con­trary evidence.

Sys­tem Two is evi­dently not able to over­come cog­ni­tive hubris, even in sit­u­a­tions where one would expect Sys­tem Two to be invoked, such as fore­cast­ing the dif­fi­culty of a major under­tak­ing. Orga­ni­za­tions are much more likely to be overly opti­mistic than overly pes­simistic about the time and cost of com­plet­ing projects. Kah­ne­man calls this the “plan­ning fal­lacy.” One plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for this is that plan­ners over-estimate the qual­ity of the maps that they are using to make their forecasts.

Rad­i­cal Ignorance

Polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Jef­frey Fried­man uses the term “rad­i­cal igno­rance” to describe what he sees as the low qual­ity of maps that all of us have in our com­plex social envi­ron­ment. He con­trasts this rad­i­cal igno­rance with the assump­tions that econ­o­mists make, in which mar­ket par­tic­i­pants and pol­i­cy­mak­ers pos­sess nearly per­fect infor­ma­tion.3 Indeed, this year’s Nobel Prize in eco­nom­ics once again rein­forced the pop­u­lar­ity in main­stream eco­nom­ics of “ratio­nal expec­ta­tions,” a par­tic­u­larly strin­gent assump­tion that eco­nomic actors pos­sess uni­formly high qual­ity information.

Largely unwill­ing to con­sider igno­rance, econ­o­mists usu­ally fall back on incen­tives as expla­na­tions for phe­nom­ena. For exam­ple, econ­o­mists explain the buildup of risk in banks’ port­fo­lios in the years lead­ing up to the cri­sis of 2008 as result­ing from moral haz­ard, in which bankers knew that they were going to be bailed out if things went poorly. How­ever, Fried­man points out that if they had truly been seek­ing out high returns with high risk, they would not have been obsessed with obtain­ing the secu­ri­ties with the most pris­tine risk rat­ing: AAA. Low-rated secu­ri­ties would have been used to exploit moral haz­ard even more effec­tively, since they paid much greater yields than higher-rated securities.

Rather than focus on incen­tives, Friedman’s nar­ra­tive would empha­size what I have been call­ing cog­ni­tive hubris. Mort­gage lenders believed that new under­writ­ing tools, espe­cially credit scor­ing, allowed them to assess bor­rower risk with greater accu­racy than ever before. Such knowl­edge was thought to enable lenders to dis­crim­i­nate care­fully enough to price for risk in sub­prime mar­kets, rather than avoid lend­ing alto­gether. On top of this, finan­cial engi­neers claimed to be able to build secu­rity struc­tures that could pro­duce pre­dictable, low lev­els of default even when the under­ly­ing loans were riskier than the tra­di­tional prime mortgage.

Reg­u­la­tors, too, fell vic­tim to the com­bi­na­tion of cog­ni­tive hubris and rad­i­cal igno­rance. They believed in the qual­ity of bank risk man­age­ment using the new tools.4 They also believed in the effec­tive­ness of their own rules and practices.

A com­mon post-crisis nar­ra­tive is that bank­ing was de-regulated in the Reagan-Greenspan era. Some pun­dits make it sound as if reg­u­la­tors behaved like par­ents who hand their teenagers the keys to the liquor cab­i­net, leave for the week­end, and say “Have a good time.” In fact, reg­u­la­tors believed that they had stronger reg­u­la­tions in place in 2005 than they did in the pre-Reagan era.

—Before 1980, mort­gage loans held by banks were illiq­uid assets sub­ject to con­sid­er­able interest-rate risk. These prob­lems were alle­vi­ated by the shift toward securitization.

—Before 1980, insol­vent insti­tu­tions were opaque because of book-value account­ing. This prob­lem was addressed with market-value account­ing, enabling reg­u­la­tors to take more timely cor­rec­tive action to address trou­bled institutions.

—Before 1980, banks had no for­mal cap­i­tal require­ments and there were no mech­a­nisms in place to steer banks away from risky assets. This prob­lem was addressed with the Basel cap­i­tal accords (for­mally adopted in 1988), which incor­po­rated a risk-weighted mea­sure of assets to deter­mine required min­i­mum cap­i­tal. In the 2000s, these risk weight­ings were altered to penal­ize banks that did not invest in highly rated, asset-backed securities.

Thus, it was not the intent of reg­u­la­tors to loosen the reins on banks. On the con­trary, from the reg­u­la­tors’ point of view, it was the envi­ron­ment prior to 1980 that amounted to leav­ing the teenagers with the keys to the liquor cab­i­net. The post-1980 reg­u­la­tory changes were believed to be in the direc­tion of tighter super­vi­sion and more ratio­nal controls.

It turned out that the reg­u­la­tors were rad­i­cally igno­rant of the con­se­quences of their deci­sions. Secu­ri­ti­za­tion intro­duces principal-agent prob­lems into mort­gage lend­ing, as the loan originator’s inter­est in obtain­ing a fee for under­writ­ing a closed loan con­flicts with the inter­est of investors in ensur­ing that bor­row­ers are prop­erly screened. These con­flicts proved to be more pow­er­ful than imag­ined. Market-value account­ing makes finan­cial mar­kets steeply pro­cycli­cal, because in a cri­sis a drop in mar­ket val­ues forces belea­guered banks to sell assets, cre­at­ing a vicious down­ward spi­ral. Finally, the risk-based cap­i­tal rules helped drive the craze for finan­cial engi­neer­ing and mis­lead­ing AAA ratings.

Polit­i­cal Disagreement

Polit­i­cal dis­agree­ment can be explained using the the­o­ries of cog­ni­tive hubris and rad­i­cal igno­rance. The basic idea is that nobody has a grasp on capital-T truth, but each of us believes that our own map of the world is highly accu­rate. When we encounter some­one who holds a sim­i­lar map, we think, “That guy knows what he is talk­ing about.” When we encounter some­one who holds a dif­fer­ent map, we think, “That guy is an idiot.” When you over­es­ti­mate the accu­racy of your own map, it is very dif­fi­cult to explain the exis­tence of peo­ple with dif­fer­ent maps, other than to impugn their intel­li­gence or their integrity.

A metaphor for this may be a topo­graph­i­cally com­plex ter­rain, which none of us can see in its entirety. Each of us is try­ing to find the high­est moun­tain peak in the ter­rain, rep­re­sent­ing the capital-T truth.

Unable to look down at the entire ter­rain, each of us fol­lows what math­e­mati­cians call a “hill-climbing algo­rithm.” We make small probes in the area right around us, and when the ter­rain slopes upward, we climb in that direc­tion. We repeat this process until the probes in every direc­tion slope down. Then we con­clude that we are at the top.

The weak­ness of hill-climbing algo­rithms is that they can get stuck at a local max­i­mum. Instead of find­ing the high­est peak, you stop when you reach the top of one par­tic­u­lar hill. From this van­tage point, you are as high as pos­si­ble, so you do not move.

When two ide­o­log­i­cal oppo­nents wind up on dif­fer­ent hill­tops, nei­ther can believe that the other has sin­cerely arrived at a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion based on the evi­dence. As Fried­man puts it,

Con­sider the most reviled pun­dit on the other side of the polit­i­cal spec­trum from your­self. To lib­eral ears, a Rush Lim­baugh or a Sean Han­nity, while well informed about which poli­cies are advo­cated by con­ser­v­a­tives and lib­er­als, will seem appallingly igno­rant of the argu­ments and evi­dence for lib­eral posi­tions. The same goes in reverse for a Frank Rich or a Paul Krug­man, whose knowl­edge of the “basics” of lib­er­al­ism and con­ser­vatism will seem, in the eyes of a con­ser­v­a­tive, to be matched by grave mis­un­der­stand­ings of the ratio­nales for con­ser­v­a­tive poli­cies.5

Indeed, our cog­ni­tive hubris is so strong that, accord­ing to David McRaney, peo­ple believe they under­stand other peo­ple bet­ter than oth­ers under­stand them­selves. He calls this phe­nom­e­non “asym­met­ric insight.”6

The illu­sion of asym­met­ric insight makes it seem as though you know every­one else far bet­ter than they know you, and not only that, but you know them bet­ter than they know them­selves. You believe the same thing about groups of which you are a mem­ber. As a whole, your group under­stands out­siders bet­ter than out­siders under­stand your group, and you under­stand the group bet­ter than its mem­bers know the group to which they belong.

In our con­text, this would mean that lib­er­als believe that they under­stand bet­ter than con­ser­v­a­tives how con­ser­v­a­tives think, and con­ser­v­a­tives believe that they under­stand bet­ter than lib­er­als how lib­er­als think. Accord­ing to McRaney, such beliefs have indeed been found in stud­ies by psy­chi­a­trists Emily Pronin and Lee Ross at Stan­ford along with Justin Kruger at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois and Ken­neth Sav­it­sky at Williams College.

Impli­ca­tions

The cog­ni­tive biases doc­u­mented by Kah­ne­man have been inter­preted by a num­ber of thinkers, includ­ing Kah­ne­man him­self, as pro­vid­ing a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion. After all, if peo­ple are far from the well-informed, ratio­nal cal­cu­la­tors assumed in eco­nomic mod­els, then pre­sum­ably the clas­si­cal eco­nomic analy­sis under­ly­ing laissez-faire eco­nomic pol­icy is wrong. Instead, it must be bet­ter to “nudge” peo­ple for their own good.7

How­ever, I draw dif­fer­ent impli­ca­tions from the hypoth­e­sis of cog­ni­tive hubris com­bined with rad­i­cal igno­rance. If social phe­nom­ena are too com­plex for any of us to under­stand, and if indi­vid­u­als con­sis­tently over­es­ti­mate their knowl­edge of these phe­nom­ena, then pru­dence would dic­tate try­ing to find insti­tu­tional arrange­ments that min­i­mize the poten­tial risks and costs that any indi­vid­ual can impose on soci­ety through his own igno­rance. To me, this is an argu­ment for lim­ited government.

Instead of using gov­ern­ment to con­sciously impose an insti­tu­tional struc­ture based on the maps of cog­ni­tively impaired indi­vid­u­als, I would pre­fer to see insti­tu­tions evolve through a trial-and-error process. Peo­ple can be “nudged” by all man­ner of social and reli­gious cus­toms. I would hope that the bet­ter norms and cus­toms would tend to sur­vive in a com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment. This was Hayek’s view of the evo­lu­tion of lan­guage, morals, com­mon law, and other forms of what he called spon­ta­neous order. In con­trast, count­ing on gov­ern­ment offi­cials to pro­vide the right nudges strikes me as a recipe for insti­tu­tional fragility.

If Kah­ne­man is cor­rect that we have “an almost unlim­ited abil­ity to ignore our own igno­rance,” then all of us are prone to mis­takes. We need insti­tu­tions that attempt to pro­tect us from our­selves, but we also need insti­tu­tions that pro­tect us from one another. Lim­ited gov­ern­ment is one such institution.

Foot­notes

1. Daniel Kah­ne­man, Think­ing Fast and Slow, p. 201.

2. I have had dif­fi­culty track­ing down a cita­tion for this. I thought I saw it on a video at the edge.org web­site. A Google search reveals a num­ber of ref­er­ences to a story “Irra­tional Every­thing” by Guy Rol­nick in the Israeli news­pa­per Haaretz around Jan­u­ary 1, 2008, but the story itself can no longer be found online. As for the orig­i­nal story itself, one ver­sion, given by orga­ni­za­tional the­o­rist Karl Weick, indi­cates that the sol­diers were Hun­gar­ian, and it comes from a poem by Miroslav Holub. See http://leaderswedeserve.wordpress.com/tag/karl-weick/.

3. Much of Friedman’s cri­tique can be found in Engi­neer­ing the Finan­cial Cri­sis, co-authored with Wladimir Kraus. The devel­op­ment of his point of view can be traced through many arti­cles that have appeared in Crit­i­cal Review, a jour­nal that Fried­man founded and edits.  For exam­ple, see “Demo­c­ra­tic Com­pe­tence in Nor­ma­tive and Pos­i­tive The­ory: Neglected Impli­ca­tions of ‘The Nature of Belief Sys­tems in Mass Publics,”’ Crit­i­cal Review 18(1–3): i – xliii (2006), or “Cap­i­tal­ism and the Jew­ish Intel­lec­tu­als,” Crit­i­cal Review 23(1–2): 169–94 (2011).

4. See the state­ments that were made at the time by Fed­eral Reserve Chair­man Ben Bernanke and other reg­u­la­tors, as doc­u­mented in my paper “Not What they Had in Mind: A His­tory of Poli­cies that Pro­duced the Finan­cial Cri­sis.”

5. Fried­man, “Demo­c­ra­tic Com­pe­tence,” p. vi.

6. David McRaney, “The Illu­sion of Asym­met­ric Insight.”

7. See Cass Sun­stein and Richard Thaler, Nudge, a book Kah­ne­man praises.

 

 Posted by at 7:42 am
Feb 222012
 

I haven’t blogged much about the con­tin­u­ing anti-Mensa fest that has been the Repub­li­can pri­mary moronathon.  It just seemed too easy and I don’t want to be seen as some­one who would pick on a polit­i­cal party rid­ing the short bus off the side of the cliff.  My gen­eral take has been that the repub­li­can power-brokers in their smoke-filled rooms had decided 2012 was a lost cause; so why waste any seri­ous con­tenders.  I mean…Newt, Rick, Mitt, Ron, Babs and the other Rick??  Really?  The only other plan might be that they think these tools will so frus­trate the  lotus-eaters at the rnc con­ven­tion that they could broker-in Jeb (…oh god…you don’t think they’d pull a Palin do ya…?)

.…get it? They all start with the same letter!”

Any­who, I’ve already unleashed on the Newt and he’s destroyed him­self, by being him­self, as I prayed to the good Bud­dha that he would.  Bul­let dodged.  I’ve never really wor­ried about Mitt; he’s just a post-modern ver­sion of a pro-business, anti-all of us, gilded age tool of the over­lords.  We’ve had them before, and they can’t really do that much dam­age.  But, Holy Shit Bat­man – San­to­rum scares the beje­sus outta me!  This guy is a real life dem­a­gogue (they’re much more rare than you’d think), a pure reac­tionary, with all the insane self-confidence of a true sociopath.  My hope is that the media wrote him off early and have let him slide, but after his super (as in super scary) Tues­day victories…it’s time for the Palin haters of the lame-stream media to get their social­ist agenda note­books out!

…and they have, good work fel­low travellers!

Rick San­to­rum spent much of last week say­ing that the media should stop pigeon-holing him as a social-issues cul­ture war­rior. Then he spent the week­end say­ing a whole lot of things that made him sound like … a social-issues cul­ture war­rior. The highlights:

1. At a Tea Party event in Colum­bus, San­to­rum said that Pres­i­dent Obama is push­ing an envi­ron­men­tal agenda that is “not about you. It’s not about your qual­ity of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony the­ol­ogy. Oh, not a the­ol­ogy based on the Bible. A dif­fer­ent theology.” Santorum later insisted that this was not meant to ques­tion Obama’s Christianity—“If the pres­i­dent says he’s a Chris­t­ian, he’s a Chris­t­ian.” And indeed, the uproar over the com­ments seems misplaced—it appears that San­to­rum was not wad­ing into Obama-as-Muslim ter­ri­tory but sim­ply traf­fick­ing in stan­dard arch-conservative fare about god­less lib­eral envi­ron­men­tal­ists. (He dou­bled down later by charg­ing that envi­ron­men­tal­ists “ele­vate Earth above man.”) But he did not help him­self by bring­ing in the t-word. Why not leave it at “ideology” instead? Espe­cially given that Santorum’s Savonarola-esque the­o­log­i­cal views were already back in the news with MSNBC’s report of Santorum’s 2008 com­ments about main-line Protes­tantism being “gone from the world of Chris­tian­ity.”  Oops, there goes the south­ern vote!

2. At a Chris­t­ian Alliance lun­cheon in Colum­bus, San­to­rum said that the government’s require­ment that health insur­ance cover pre-natal test­ing amounted to gov­ern­ment pro­mo­tion of abor­tions. “One of the man­dates is they require free pre­na­tal test­ing in every insur­ance pol­icy in Amer­ica. Why? Because it saves money in health care. Why? Because free pre­na­tal test­ing ends up in more abor­tions and there­fore less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the dis­abled in our soci­ety.” This is obvi­ously a mat­ter close to the heart for San­to­rum, whose 3-year-old daugh­ter Bella was born with Tri­somy 18. But com­ing in the midst of all the Repub­li­can talk against birth con­trol and for manda­tory ultra­sounds for women seek­ing abortions…it’s not exactly likely to min­i­mize the notion of San­to­rum as mod­ern woman’s worst nightmare.

3. At a megachurch in Geor­gia last night, San­to­rum not-so-obliquely com­pared the threat Barack Obama posed to the coun­try to the rise of fas­cism in the 1930s. “Your coun­try needs you. It’s not as clear a chal­lenge. Obvi­ously, World War II was pretty obvi­ous. At some point, they knew. But remem­ber, the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, for a year and a half, sat on the side­lines while Europe was under dark­ness, where our clos­est ally, Britain, was being bombed and lev­eled, while Japan was spread­ing its can­cer all through­out South­east Asia. Amer­ica sat from 1940, when France fell, to Decem­ber of ’41, and did almost noth­ing. Why? Because we’re a hope­ful peo­ple. We think, ‘Well, you know, he’ll get bet­ter. You know, he’s a nice guy. I mean, it won’t be near as bad as what we think. This’ll be okay.’ Oh yeah, maybe he’s not the best guy, and after a while, you found out things about this guy over in Europe, and he’s not so good of a guy after all.”

Such remarks con­found the pun­dits, who can­not fathom why San­to­rum would keep veer­ing off a pre-Michigan script that that was sup­posed to be geared toward the econ­omy, man­u­fac­tur­ing in par­tic­u­lar. What this reflects, though, is a mis­con­cep­tion grounded in our lack of expe­ri­ence with true polit­i­cal ide­o­logues. We talk a lot these days about Wash­ing­ton hav­ing been over­taken by con­ser­v­a­tive ide­o­logues, but this is an exaggeration. Many of those glibly par­rot­ing right-wing ide­ol­ogy these days—say, Eric Cantor—are mere oppor­tunists. But Rick San­to­rum is a rare breed—a bona fide ide­o­logue with a fixed and coher­ent world view. He can’t just switch some but­ton and turn off the social stuff and talk jobs instead. It’s all woven together. “I’m not going to go out and lay out an agenda about how we’re going to trans­form people’s hearts,” he said today. “But I will talk about it.”

The con­trast with Mitt Rom­ney, the man who is all but­tons and switches, couldn’t be any greater. In The Real Rom­ney, the new biog­ra­phy by Michael Kran­ish and Scott Hel­man, Romney’s long­time aide Eric Fehrn­strom is quoted say­ing that Rom­ney is “not a very notional leader. He is more inter­ested in data and what the data mean.” The authors cor­rectly take this as a fairly reveal­ing state­ment, an acknowl­edg­ment that Rom­ney lacks much in the way of guid­ing ideas, the­o­ries, phi­los­o­phy. Whereas San­to­rum is all about notions, par­tic­u­larly one very big one: we’re going down­hill fast, in more ways than one, and can be saved only by a theology—the non-phony one.

Bonus Quotes! Cau­tion, very scary stuff… read with a friend!

On the Catholic Church’s abuse scan­dals: “Priests, like all of us, are affected by cul­ture. When the cul­ture is sick, every ele­ment in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scan­dal, it is no sur­prise that Boston, a seat of aca­d­e­mic, polit­i­cal, and cul­tural lib­er­al­ism in Amer­ica, lies at the cen­ter of the storm.”

On same sex mar­riage and bes­tial­ity: “In every soci­ety, the def­i­n­i­tion of mar­riage has not ever to my knowl­edge included homo­sex­u­al­ity. That’s not to pick on homo­sex­u­al­ity. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or what­ever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dra­matic impact on the qual­ity…” Sorry, can’t even bring myself to type the rest of the quote.

On the Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Court’s deci­sion to approve same sex mar­riage: “This is an issue just like 9/11. We didn’t decide we wanted to fight the war on ter­ror­ism because we wanted to. It was brought to us. And if not now, when? When the supreme courts in all the other states have suc­cumbed to the Mass­a­chu­setts ver­sion of the law?”

…Rick!, ya might wanna google “full faith and credit,” its from that con­tsti­tu­tion thingy

On the link between same sex mar­riage and national secu­rity: “I would argue that the future of Amer­ica hangs in the bal­ance, because the future of the fam­ily hangs in the bal­ance. Isn’t that the ulti­mate home­land secu­rity, stand­ing up and defend­ing marriage?”

On the war in Iraq: “As the hob­bits are going up Mount Doom, the eye of Mor­dor is being drawn some­where else. It’s being drawn to Iraq. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the eye to come back to the United States.”

On con­tra­cep­tion: “Many of the Chris­t­ian faith have said, well, that’s okay, con­tra­cep­tion is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sex­ual realm that is counter to how things are sup­posed to be.”

On the Afford­able Care Act: “I would tell you that my first pri­or­ity as a pres­i­dent of the United States is to repeal Barack Obama’s health­care plan. I think it’s the most dan­ger­ous piece of leg­is­la­tion, well, in many gen­er­a­tions. It is the rea­son that I’m run­ning for office. Because I believe Oba­macare is a game changer. I believe Oba­macare will rob Amer­ica, the best way I can put it is, rob Amer­ica of its soul.”

On Pres­i­dent Obama’s pro-choice stance: “I find it almost remark­able for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are peo­ple and who are not people.’”

On global warm­ing: “I believe the earth gets warmer, and I also believe the earth gets cooler, and I think his­tory points out that it does that and that the idea that man through the pro­duc­tion of CO2, which is a trace gas in the atmos­phere and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas, is some­how respon­si­ble for cli­mate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you con­sider all of the other fac­tors, El Niño, La Niña, sunspots, you know, mois­ture in the air.”

You as scared as I am now?  I need a hug (while they’re still legal)

 

 

 

 Posted by at 5:07 pm
Jan 242012
 

Newt Gin­grich is smarter than you. Don’t feel bad; he’s smarter than every­body else, too. Just ask him.  But don’t ask him about his per­sonal life – how dare you!

Trust Me…

Repeated adul­tery with younger women, while each suc­ces­sive wife was seri­ously ill — and all along Newt was pro­claim­ing him­self a cham­pion of fam­ily val­ues. Attack­ing mort­gage lender Fred­die Mac, while secretly get­ting paid $1.6 mil­lion as a lob­by­ist for them – and claim­ing he was a “his­to­rian,” not a lob­by­ist. Attack­ing Con­gress for grid­lock, when per­son­ally led the destruc­tion of Con­gress’ civil­ity and tra­di­tions in the 1980s as a “bomb-thrower” and evil genius tac­ti­cian. (Seri­ously, look it up.) A half-million charge account at Tiffany’s Jew­el­ers for his lat­est, youngest woman (that we know of).

All this for 30 years run­ning, and he’s still a lead­ing con­tender for Pres­i­dent as a reli­gious, morally cru­sad­ing Repub­li­can? Yeah, he’s smarter all right. As a his­to­rian, he knows Amer­i­cans for­get any­thing over 5 years old, and the press will ignore your long-term char­ac­ter traits if you give them a shiny new story to report.

It’s not that Newt lacks charm. My per­sonal favorite thing is that he loves, loves, LOVES dinosaurs! Not in any creepy way, for once, but with the deep enthu­si­asm of a five-year-old boy. For that mat­ter, notice how many of his “vision­ary” sci­en­tific ideas involve lasers and outer space and huge explo­sions. That’s adorable. The prob­lem is, most five year olds have a sin­cere nar­cis­sism that would lead them to hap­pily order far-off cities destroyed if they got some candy in return. That’s why we don’t put them in charge of the world.

Ulti­mately, Gin­grich is amaz­ingly sim­i­lar to Bill Clin­ton — both are pot smok­ing, draft-dodging adul­ter­ers from poor South­ern fam­i­lies, who rose to great heights with brains and hard work. Clin­ton appears to have han­dled the change a bit bet­ter though.

Quotes:

We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, ‘I never slept with her.’” — Anne Man­ning (who was also mar­ried at the time.)

We would have won in 1974 if we could have kept him out of the office, screw­ing her [a young vol­un­teer] on the desk.” — Dot Crews, his cam­paign sched­uler at the time

[In the book] “Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them”, [I] “found fright­en­ing pieces that related to my own life.” — Newt.

I think you can write a psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file of me that says I found a way to immerse my inse­cu­ri­ties in a cause large enough to jus­tify what­ever I wanted it to.” — Newt, speak­ing to Gail Sheehy.

She isn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the President’s wife. And besides, she has can­cer.” — Newt, on his first wife.

He treats me really nicely, buys me all these ices. Dolce & Gab­bana, Fendi and that Donna, Karan, he be sharin’ All that money got me wearin’” — Cal­lista? No wait, that’s Fer­gie, “My Humps”

I don’t want him to be pres­i­dent and I don’t think he should be.” — Newt’s sec­ond wife Marianne.

She [Cal­lista] is the sin­gle most self-centered per­son I’ve run into in politics—it’s all about her. They do these movies together, and she does a word count: she has to have the same num­ber of words on cam­era as he does or they have to reshoot. …And Cal­lista did not want him to run for Pres­i­dent. That’s why he had to buy her so much damn jew­elry.” — an unnamed “for­mer strate­gist.” Will Rogers, Newt’s ex-Iowa strate­gist has denied it was him.

If the coun­try today were to move to the left, Newt would sense it before it started hap­pen­ing and lead the way.” — Dot Crews, his cam­paign sched­uler through­out the 1970s.

It doesn’t mat­ter what I do. Peo­ple need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t mat­ter what I live.” — Newt.

Adul­tery:

Sex on the Desk — Oral Sex is More Eas­ily Denied

Sev­eral news­pa­pers are now report­ing that Newt Gin­grich is dat­ing and basi­cally liv­ing with Cal­lista Bisek, a “wil­lowy blond Con­gres­sional aide 23 years his junior.” Biske, 33, has been spend­ing nights at Gingrich’s apart­ment near the Capi­tol and has her own key. In an amaz­ing act of hypocrisy, Gin­grich was appar­ently dat­ing Bisek all dur­ing the Clinton-Lewinsky adul­tery scan­dal, even as he pro­claimed fam­ily val­ues and bit­terly crit­i­cized the Pres­i­dent for his adultery.

Reporters and other Wash­ing­ton insid­ers have known about this rela­tion­ship since 1994, even before Gin­grich became Speaker of the House, but did not have any solid proof to report. In 1995, Van­ity Fair mag­a­zine described Bisek as Gingrich’s “fre­quent break­fast com­pan­ion.” Gin­grich was mar­ried to Mar­i­anne Gin­grich dur­ing all of that time, and just filed for divorce in August 1999.

Newt is appar­ently try­ing to cre­ate a new hybrid form, Chris­t­ian adul­tery. Accord­ing to MSNBC, Bisek sings in the National Shrine Choir, and Newt would often wait for her at the Shrine of the Immac­u­late Con­cep­tion, lis­ten­ing to her sing while he read the Bible.

This is hardly the first time Newt has cheated, either. “It was com­mon knowl­edge that Newt was involved with other women dur­ing his [first] mar­riage to Jackie. Maybe not on the level of John Kennedy. But he had girl­friends — some seri­ous, some triv­ial.” — Dot Crews, his cam­paign sched­uler through­out the 70s. One woman, Anne Man­ning, has come for­ward and con­firmed a rela­tion­ship with him dur­ing the 1976 cam­paign. “We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, ‘I never slept with her.’”

Kip Carter, his for­mer cam­paign trea­surer, was walk­ing Newt’s daugh­ters back from a foot­ball game one day and cut across a dri­ve­way where he saw a car. “As I got to the car, I saw Newt in the pas­sen­ger seat and one of the guys’ wives with her head in his lap going up and down. Newt kind of turned and gave me this little-boy smile. For­tu­nately, Jackie Sue and Kathy were a lot younger and shorter then.”

Fam­ily Val­ues? Press­ing Wife for Divorce in the Hospital:

He walked out in the spring of 1980.… By Sep­tem­ber, I went into the hos­pi­tal for my third surgery. The two girls came to see me, and said, “Daddy is down­stairs. Could he come up?” When he got there, he wanted to dis­cuss the terms of the divorce while I was recov­er­ing from my surgery.” — Jackie, his first wife. One of Newt’s daugh­ters from that first mar­riage, who is also a con­ser­v­a­tive colum­nist, recently dis­puted that story (after Newt co-authored a book with her), say­ing among other things that her mother Jackie had ini­ti­ated the divorce and that “the tumor [removed in a surgery the day before] was benign.” Of course no one knew the tumor was benign at the time, so I don’t know why that is sup­posed to mat­ter. And CNN recently found court doc­u­ments that show that Newt did in fact ini­ti­ate that divorce — which makes him a bla­tant liar, too. In any case, I’m inclined to believe the wife this hap­pened to over the account of her daugh­ter who was a child at that time (and earns easy money from her dad today.)

Spend­ing Spree at Tiffany’s

Newt brazenly attacks Mitt Rom­ney as rich and out of touch — after it came out that he owed the lux­ury jew­eler Tiffany’s between a quar­ter mil­lion and a half mil­lion dol­lars for pretty things he bought his wife. We think he bought them for his wife, any­way. If not Cal­lista, maybe the next one.

Lying Cor­po­rate Lobbyist

There are few things any cur­rent can­di­date has done more hyp­o­crit­i­cal than Newt’s cor­po­rate lob­by­ing work for the mort­gage giant Fred­die Mac. You see, Newt has pub­licly attacked Fred­die Mac for years, blam­ing it for the 2008 hous­ing crash. Then we found out that they paid him $1.6 mil­lion, as he went around and tried to con­vince Repub­li­cans to vote for Fred­die Mac’s favorite bills (and against reg­u­la­tions). Newt denies he was lob­by­ing — because his work didn’t meet some tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tions of lob­by­ing — and claimed, ridicu­lously that they paid him to be a “his­to­rian.” No his­to­rian in his­tory has earned $1.6 million.

Newt didn’t report to Fred­die Mac’s direc­tor of his­tory. (Spoiler alert; no com­pany has one.) He reported to Craig Thomas, who was a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist for Fred­die Mac, and paid Newt $25,000 a month. On Jan­u­ary 24, 2012, Newt finally released his con­tract. Guess what is not described in his ser­vices? His­tory. In fact, Newt admits that he only talked to Fred­die Mac staff for about one hour per month. At $25,000/ hour, that’s a lot of his­tory for a mort­gage lender.

Dead-Beat Dad:

The hos­pi­tal visit wasn’t the end of it, either. Shortly after the can­cer ward visit, Newt stopped pay­ing alimony and child sup­port. Jackie had to take Newt to court to get money out of him, and her Bap­tist church needed to take up a col­lec­tion to get his kids food and pre­vent the util­i­ties from being cut off. He has never apol­o­gized for this or admit­ted it was a mistake.

Draft Dodger:

Though he relent­lessly pushes mil­i­tary spend­ing and talks like a big­time hawk, Gin­grich avoided the Viet­nam War through a com­bi­na­tion of stu­dent and fam­ily defer­ments. (He mar­ried one of his teach­ers at age 19.)

Prob­lems With Women?

When Newt’s first wife Jackie was still in the hos­pi­tal recov­er­ing from her third can­cer surgery, Newt came to her bed and — by his own admis­sion — “argued” with her over the terms of the divorce that he wanted (and she didn’t). Newt also gra­ciously told one of his aides that “She isn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the President’s wife. And besides, she has can­cer.” Later it emerged that he had been hav­ing an affair with a younger woman, Mar­i­anne. But his sec­ond mar­riage — to Mar­i­anne — wasn’t much smoother either. In fact it was very sim­i­lar. After Mar­i­anne was diag­nosed with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, Newt told her about an affair with a younger woman, Cal­lista, that he had been hav­ing for six years. She says that Newt didn’t ask for divorce this time — he asked her to have an “open mar­riage” where he could also sleep with Cal­lista. Mar­i­anne refused, and they divorced.

Does Newt have some kind of prob­lem with women? He has said that he read a book called “Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them”, and “found fright­en­ing pieces that related to my own life.”

House Bank­ing Scan­dal: Newt Bounced 22 Checks

Remem­ber the House Bank­ing scan­dal, where so many con­gress­men wrote rub­ber checks on gov­ern­ment money? Newt hopes you don’t, because he bounced 22 him­self, which almost cost him reelec­tion in 1992. His vote for the secret House pay raise, and the chauf­feur who drove him around Wash­ing­ton in a Lin­coln Town Car, didn’t help.

Lucra­tive and Ques­tion­able Book Deals: Murdoch’s $4.5 Mil­lion wasn’t the first

The 1995 Mur­doch Deal

BAck in 1995, Newt’s book scan­dal was pretty big news. He was offered first $2.5 mil­lion, then $4.5 mil­lion by Harper Collins, a pub­lish­ing com­pany owned by Rupert Mur­doch, who also owns the Fox TV net­work and news­pa­pers and TV sta­tions around the world. Mur­doch has been hav­ing prob­lems with a com­plaint by NBC that Fox is a for­eign owned TV net­work, which is against US law.

In the past, Harper Collins has offered mil­lion dol­lar book con­tracts to sev­eral con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cians in coun­tries where Mur­doch was hav­ing reg­u­la­tory trou­ble, includ­ing Eng­land (Mar­garet Thatcher, Jef­frey Archer) and China (Deng Xiaoping’s daugh­ter). A week after the ini­tial offer, Newt met with Rupert Mur­doch — and Murdoch’s leg­isla­tive lob­by­ist — to dis­cuss pol­i­tics, includ­ing the NBC com­plaint. As facts about the deal were made pub­lic, and even Repub­li­cans crit­i­cized him, Gin­grich decided to give up the $4.5 mil­lion advance for a still-lucrative deal based on royalties.

Gingrich’s story kept chang­ing through the con­tro­versy. First, Newt’s spokesman said that Mur­doch knew noth­ing about Gin­grich and the book deal. On Fri­day Jan­u­ary 13, Newt’s spokesman admit­ted that Mur­doch actu­ally met Newt on a park bench the week before the deal was made, but didn’t talk about it. He also said he knew noth­ing about Murdoch’s lob­by­ist being at their meet­ing. The next day, he admit­ted the lob­by­ist was there, but claimed he didn’t say so because no one asked.

Newt also said repeat­edly that the book wasn’t his idea; that a lit­er­ary agent named Lynn Chu had sought him out and pro­posed it. After Ms. Chu said that Gingrich’s asso­ciate Jeff Eise­nach called her first on Newt’s behalf, Eise­nach and Newt’s spokesman admit­ted that was true.

The 1984 Book Deal Murdoch’s book deal wasn’t the first lucra­tive and con­tro­ver­sial book deal Newt engi­neered. In 1983 he estab­lished a lim­ited part­ner­ship in Atlanta called COS Lim­ited, which pulled together about two dozen of his biggest cam­paign con­trib­u­tors to finance his book.

The for­mer admin­is­tra­tor of his con­gres­sional offices in Geor­gia, Dolores Adam­son, resigned over the deal. “The man­u­script was put together in the dis­trict office using office equip­ment,” she said. “He would just come in and say ‘This is what I want to do.’ I would say, ‘This is not eth­i­cal,” but after a while he didn’t lis­ten.” That office equip­ment, of course, was paid for by US tax­pay­ers includ­ing you.

GOPAC sleaze: Tax­payer sub­si­dies for his par­ti­san cam­paign course.

Newt in his polti­cal career was the king of using tax-payer sub­si­dized dona­tions for his per­sonal and polit­i­cal pur­poses. He stooped so low as to hijack not one but two char­i­ties for poor inner city kids and use their dona­tions for his per­sonal goals.

GOPAC, Newt’s long­time polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, was the cen­ter­piece of a com­plex net­work of non-profit, and mostly tax exempt orga­ni­za­tions that Newt has used to sup­port him­self and other con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates. In an act of incred­i­ble hypocrisy, this cru­sader against taxes obtained tax­payer sub­si­dies for his per­sonal and polit­i­cal goals, by mis­usu­ing these tax-exempt groups.

For exam­ple, one GOPAC doc­u­ment said that its goal for the 1990s was “to both cre­ate and dis­sem­i­nate the doc­trine of a major­ity Repub­li­can party.” In another GOPAC doc­u­ment, titled “Key Fac­tors in a House GOP Major­ity,” Gin­grich wrote “It is more pow­er­ful and more effec­tive to develop a reform move­ment par­al­lel to the offi­cial Repub­li­can party”, instead of using the party struc­ture, because it would get more atten­tion and be more cred­i­ble. Shortly there­after, GOPAC paid for a tele­vi­sion pro­gram pro­mot­ing a “grass­roots” move­ment to reform gov­ern­ment; pub­licly they claimed it was non­par­ti­san, but pri­vate inter­nal doc­u­ments made its par­ti­san goals clear.

After it got expen­sive, Gin­grich trans­ferred the pro­gram to the “Abra­ham Lin­coln Oppor­tu­nity Foun­da­tion,” a tax-exempt group con­trolled by a GOPAC offi­cial named Bo Call­away. It had been set up years ear­lier to help inner city kids, which is why it was tax exempt. The group spent $260,000 on the tele­vi­sion pro­gram in 1990. That same year, Newt started another tax-exempt group that paid poor stu­dents for read­ing books. He bragged of this in many a polit­i­cal speech. But after the first two years, most of this foundation’s money went to Mel Steely, a for­mer Gin­grich aide who is now Newt’s offi­cial biographer.

The best known effort was a col­lege course (titled “Renew­ing Amer­i­can Civ­i­liza­tion”) at a small col­lege that Gin­grich nakedly used to recruit and orga­nize con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates, and to feed them his care­fully con­structed ide­ol­ogy and polit­i­cal slogans.

Of course, using tax-exempt edu­ca­tional or char­i­ta­ble dona­tions for par­ti­san pur­poses is ille­gal, and sev­eral ethics com­plaints were filed against Gin­grich. He agreed to pay a $300,000 fine for mis­lead­ing the com­mit­tee dur­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion, and in the process dodged con­vic­tion on the actual charges through a com­bi­na­tion of finess­ing some legal def­i­n­i­tions, sheer self-confidence and raw polit­i­cal power (as Speaker of the House at the time of the com­plaints, he appointed the ethics com­mit­tee. Fur­ther­more, GOPAC had one ethics com­mit­tee mem­ber on its ros­ter last ses­sion, and gave money to another.)

The Ethics Com­mit­tee dropped its final charges against Gin­grich not long before he resigned as speaker, despite find­ing that Gin­grich had in fact vio­lated one rule by repeat­edly using a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant paid by GOPAC to develop the Repub­li­can polit­i­cal agenda, because there was no evi­dence he was con­tin­u­ing to do so.

The IRS also started an inves­ti­ga­tion of one group, the Progress and Free­dom Foun­da­tion, for vio­lat­ing its tax-exempt sta­tus by donat­ing to Gingrich’s col­lege course. In the inves­ti­ga­tion, the spe­cial coun­sel found that these activ­i­ties were “sub­stan­tially moti­vated by par­ti­san polit­i­cal goals.” The IRS even­tu­ally over­ruled him, and found that the course “was edu­ca­tional and never favored or opposed a can­di­date for pub­lic office.” It said the foun­da­tion “did not inter­vene on behalf of can­di­dates of the Repub­li­can Party merely by pro­mot­ing” themes in the course. This extremely nar­row read­ing of the law basi­cally said “so what if he used the course to recruit, orga­nize and groom can­di­dates; as long as they didn’t say ‘Vote for Jones’, it wasn’t par­ti­san.” Despite what Gin­grich fans argue, this hardly proves his inno­cence. The IRS has chick­ened out before in polit­i­cal cases, notably let­ting the Church of Sci­en­tol­ogy com­pletely off the hook in its inves­ti­ga­tion of that group.

Cor­po­rate reward: $2,500/month to Newt’s wife

Accord­ing to the Wall Street Jour­nal, a com­pany hired Mar­i­anne Gin­grich (Newt’s wife) for $2,500 a month plus com­mis­sions in Sep­tem­ber 1994 after he announced sup­port for a free trade zone in Israel that they are try­ing to build. Her “job” for Israel Export Devel­op­ment Co. is to find ten­ants for the trade zone. Gingrich’s spokesman said that since her job did not involve work­ing with the US gov­ern­ment, there was no con­flict of interest.

Who Owns Him?

- Sher­man Adel­son, a Las Vegas casino owner, and his wife have EACH given $5 mil­lion to Newt’s Super­PAC just this spring. 2 checks, $10 mil­lion. By amaz­ing coin­ci­dence, Newt’s resur­gence in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign began about 10 min­utes after Adel­son wrote the first check. Here you have a per­fect illus­tra­tion of what the Cit­i­zens United cam­paign has meant for pres­i­den­tial politics.

- Rupert Mur­doch (see book deal above)

- Georgia’s Richards fam­ily, own­ers of South­wire Cor­po­rate ($1.3 billion/year)

The Richard­ses lent and donated money and office space to Gin­grich from his ear­li­est days in pol­i­tics. They have given over $100,000, and Gin­grich was the first recip­i­ent of dona­tions from Southwire’s PAC. By coin­ci­dence, Gin­grich has changed from an envi­ron­men­tal­ist critic of South­wire to a staunch anti-environmentalist dur­ing that time. Peo­ple with ties to South­wire were instru­men­tal in two ear­lier lucra­tive book deals of Gingrich’s in 1977 and 1984; the lat­ter was inves­ti­gated for eth­i­cal violations.

Sources:

 

Newly recov­ered court files cast doubt on Gin­grich ver­sion of first divorce,” By Alan Duke, CNN, Decem­ber 27, 2011

Cal­lista quote: The Good Wife: Can Cal­lista Gin­grich save her hus­band?, by Ariel Lev, The New Yorker, Jan­u­ary 23, 2012

Doesn’t mat­ter what I do” quote: John H. Richard­son, “Newt Gin­grich: The Indis­pens­able Repub­li­can,” Esquire Mag­a­zine, August 10, 2010

“Newt’s Glass House,” by Stephen Tal­bot, Salon.com, August 28, 1998

“Newt Plays House With New Squeeze,” by Tim­o­thy Burger and Owen Moritz, NY Daily News, August 12, 1999

“Newt’s Fool­ing Around With His Girl On the Hill,” by Andy Soltis, New York Post, August 12, 1999

“The Big One That Got Away,” by David Corn, Salon Web­site, August 12, 1998

adul­ter­ous choir prac­tice: “Per­son­als”, by Leah Garchik, San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, August 17, 1999 pE12

Gin­grich Won’t Answer Woman’s Adul­tery Story,” Mis­soula (Mon­tana) Mis­sou­lian, August 16, 1995p.1

Tales About Gin­grich make field level”, Idaho Spokesman Review, August 16, 1995 pB6

Gin­grich Aided Export Firm That Employed His Wife”, NY Times News Ser­vice, San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, Feb­ru­ary 7, 1995 pA7

Gin­grich, Critic of ‘Busi­ness as Usual,’ Helps Out Spe­cial Inter­ests Like ‘Any Mem­ber of Con­gress’”, Phil Kuntz, Wall Street Jour­nal, April 3, 1995 pA16

Gingrich’s polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion”, Jeff Gerth and Stephen Laba­ton (NY Times News Ser­vice), San Fran­cisco Exam­iner, Feb­ru­ary 12, 1995 pA6

IRS clears Gin­grich dona­tion that led to his House cen­sure”, Capi­tol Hill Blue Web­site, Feb­ru­ary 4, 1999

Ethics Com­mit­tee Drops Last of 84 Charges Against Gin­grich, By Curt Ander­son (Asso­ci­ated Press), Wash­ing­ton Post, Octo­ber 11, 1998, Page A13

“Use of Tax-Exempt Groups Inte­gral to Polit­i­cal Strat­egy”, by Charles R. Bab­cock, Wash­ing­ton Post, Jan­u­ary 7, 1997, Page A01

A Big Check, and Gin­grich Gets a Big Lift, By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and ERIC LIPTON, New York Times, Jan­u­ary 9, 2012

Miriam Adel­son Donates $5 Mil­lion to a Pro-Gingrich ‘Super PAC’, by NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, New York Times, Jan­u­ary 23, 2012

Jump-Start: How Speaker Gin­grich Grabbed Power and Atten­tion So Quickly”, Wall Street Jour­nal, Jan­u­ary 19, 1995 pA1

Gingrich’s for­mer firm releases Fred­die Mac con­tract, by Dan Eggen, Wash­ing­ton Post, Jan­u­ary 24, 2012

The Inner Quest of Newt Gin­grich”, Gail Sheehy, Van­ity Fair, Sep­tem­ber 1995 p147 “Gin­grich, Mur­doch reveal lobbyist’s role at meet­ing”, Katharine Seelye (NY Times News Ser­vice), San Fran­cisco Exam­iner, pA1 “Mur­doch, Gin­grich Admit They Talked”, San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, Jan­u­ary 13, 1995

The Mys­te­ri­ous Mrs. Newt”, Mar­tin Fletcher (Lon­don Times News Ser­vice), SF Exam­iner, Jan­u­ary 15, 1995 pA4 “Newt’s Near Misses”, Ron Cur­ran, The Bay Guardian, Jan­u­ary 11, 1995 p10

Newt, Inc.”, Den­nis Bern­stein, Bay Guardian, Feb­ru­ary 1, 1995 p19

 

 Posted by at 8:32 am
Dec 152011
 

On Decem­ber 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was rat­i­fied. For the ben­e­fit of Rick Perry and peo­ple like him who can’t keep lists of more than two items in their head, let’s review:

I. You can say any­thing you want except “Fire!” in a crowded the­atre or “Let’s elect Michele Bach­mann Pres­i­dent” in a room­ful of peo­ple with func­tion­ing brains; you can peace­ably assem­ble in pub­lic spaces to call out the gov­ern­ment when it’s act­ing like a dick, but only between 8am and 8pm Mon­day through Fri­day and 9am and 4pm on week­ends. (Wis­con­sinites: don’t for­get to pay Gov. Walker his “assem­bly fee” before you gather.); the press has total free­dom, except where riot police are evict­ing peace­ful pro­test­ers from a pub­lic place with pep­per spray, bull­doz­ers, rub­ber bul­lets, sound-wave can­nons, con­cus­sion grenades, dogs, lasers, tasers and/or clubs, in which case IT NEVER HAPPENED.

Spe­cial Bonus: The United States is tech­ni­cally neu­tral on reli­gion, except dur­ing prayers in Con­gress and invo­ca­tions at inau­gu­ra­tions and at the end of any pres­i­den­tial speech, and also in the Pledge of Alle­giance and on your money and…oh, never mind.

II. Guns—Fuck Yeah! (…and bazookas, too, right? Right!)

III. You don’t have to let sol­diers in your house. But if they’re offer­ing to clean the place, come on in!

IV. No searches and seizures with­out a war­rant unless the infor­ma­tion is gath­ered via a government-approved, immu­nized telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany which is paid via your tax dol­lars to suck up all your com­mu­ni­ca­tions like a vac­uum cleaner and spit it out at the NSA, where an agent will sort through it all, espe­cially your “secret” cache of porn, for which he thanks you kindly.

V. The amend­ment to invoke when you’ve been naughty.

VI. We Amer­i­cans have an iron­clad, unshak­able and invi­o­lable right to a trial by a jury of our peers. Or, y’know, maybe not.

VII. What? Two jury amend­ments in a row? I’m los­ing inter­est in your list, founders.

VIII.  No cruel or unusual pun­ish­ment shall be autho­rized by any­one except who­ever hap­pens to become America’s 20th Repub­li­can Vice President.

IX.  If the score is tied after nine amend­ments, we go into extra innings.

X. States don’t gotta do nuthin’ if they don’t wanna, and if you don’t agree then we’re gonna secede. Also known as the “sore loser” amendment.

To quote James Madi­son: “Eh…they’ll do in a pinch.”

 Posted by at 6:41 am
Dec 132011
 

Although the his­tor­i­cal evi­dence is that Marie Antoinette never actu­ally said, “Let them eat cake,” the phrase has become inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the cal­lous­ness and cruel inequal­i­ties that led directly and inex­orably to the storm­ing of the Bastille and the French Rev­o­lu­tion.  Now we have Newt Gin­grich, among oth­ers, say­ing, to wild right-wing applause, that the Occu­piers should “go get a job right after you take a bath.” The mock­ery is at or above the “Let them eat cake” level; the ques­tion is: Must rev­o­lu­tion inex­orably follow?

Every soci­ety has its Bastille Line, the point at which the provocation—the inequal­i­ties, naked unfair­ness, exploita­tion, derision—becomes so great and affects so many, and the prospects of redress through nor­mal polit­i­cal processes grow so dim, that the cork blows and rev­o­lu­tion is sprung.  All the lies told, Wal-Marts opened, and Prozac pre­scribed can push the Bastille Line back some­what, but it is still there, dar­ing us to storm away. And in Amer­ica, our own “sans-culottes,” the Occupy move­ment, con­tin­ues to attract more and more to its ranks and to its con­scious­ness, as a first stir­ring in a very long time.  Will the response they receive push them toward the Bastille?

It’s becom­ing pretty clear, with the help of Michael Bloomberg and Newt Gin­grich, what that response will be.  In fact the “Let them eat cake” response is prob­a­bly inevitable because Amer­ica has become that bro­ken, that polar­ized, that unfair, that cruel, that close to the gang rape that was pre-Revolutionary France.  The Occupy move­ment is prepar­ing for a long siege.  They know there are no quick fixes to the mess that is Amer­ica today.  As they wisely expected, the Powers-That-Be are not going to change their ways, let alone yield con­trol, to any­thing short of a Rev­o­lu­tion. The ques­tion is “Why?”

Free­man Dyson, writ­ing in The New York Review, gives us a good answer.  “Demo­c­ra­tic sys­tems of gov­ern­ment,” he writes, “are designed to answer the …ques­tion, ‘How do we make sure that rulers can be peace­fully replaced when they rule badly?’  …Elec­tions are held not to choose the best rulers, but to give us a chance to get rid of the worst with­out blood­shed.”  Elec­tions, in other words, are the pri­mary mech­a­nism for keep­ing a soci­ety well away from its Bastille Line, and they vir­tu­ally never fail to do so.  Unless they are rigged.  Then they lose all such pro­tec­tive power and the only choices left are quiet des­per­a­tion or the march on the Bastille.

This is what has hap­pened in and to Amer­ica.  The Elec­tion Defense Alliance, and oth­ers that watch over our elec­tion integrity and study elec­tion foren­sics, have amassed moun­tains of evi­dence that America’s com­put­er­ized, pri­va­tized, con­cealed, and par­ti­san owned-and-operated vote count­ing sys­tem has been fully cor­rupted and manip­u­lated to serve the inter­ests of the few and to pro­gres­sively dis­em­power the many.  To do, in other words, exactly what elec­tions in a democ­racy are designed to pre­vent.   Much of that evi­dence and analy­sis is archived on their web­site (www.ElectionDefenseAlliance.org); it is avail­able for your eval­u­a­tion and will not be reca­pit­u­lated here.

Because this is a Call To Action.  The Occupy move­ment, and the wide­spread dis­con­tent and dis­em­pow­er­ment it embod­ies, have met the First Response:  get out of the park, take a bath, get a job … get lost.  We don’t know what will come next.   Amer­ica remains a rather closely divided, if dan­ger­ously polar­ized, nation and, yes, there is a lot of Prozac, actual and rhetor­i­cal, in cir­cu­la­tion.  Mean­while, Amer­i­can elec­tions are ceas­ing to func­tion as the vehi­cle for “get[ting] rid of the worst with­out blood­shed.”  In the rigged game of Amer­i­can elec­tions, it now often requires a 60% or greater super­ma­jor­ity to actu­ally win an elec­tion against a can­di­date or propo­si­tion favored by the “1%.”  And, because com­put­er­ized rig­ging knows no the­o­ret­i­cal bounds, it can get a lot worse, the thumb on the scale mor­ph­ing as needed into a ham fist and, ulti­mately, an elephant—whatever it takes to stay in power.   And every rigged elec­tion brings us one block closer to the Bastille, to a stark choice between retreat and rev­o­lu­tion, an obscenely uneven play­ing field with no demo­c­ra­tic alter­na­tive, no polit­i­cal means of redress and recovery.

If our democ­racy is to be saved from gen­er­a­tions of oppres­sion on the one hand or bloody rev­o­lu­tion on the other, an end must come to rigged elections.  The only way that is going to hap­pen is by replac­ing our secret and cor­rupted com­put­er­ized vote count­ing with pub­licly observ­able human vote counting—all across America.  “But,” elec­tion offi­cials in thrall to the speed and con­ve­nience of the com­put­ers wail, “we don’t have the peo­ple­power to do this.”  Oh yes we do.  They are out there in the cold in parks and pub­lic spaces in cities and towns all across this coun­try.  They are also in their homes and offices, inspired by the Occu­piers, begin­ning to rec­og­nize that there is some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong with the pic­ture and won­der­ing what they too can do.

I rec­og­nize that the Occu­piers have focused much of their energy on the chal­lenge of cre­at­ing a “real” democ­racy.   And I under­stand the temp­ta­tion to turn away from our larger “democ­racy” that is seen to be so dam­aged and cor­rupted.  But I believe that, if the Occu­piers can seize this moment and chan­nel their grow­ing power and their new insights, it is not too late to restore our democ­racy to health and vitality.  Whatever other agenda or demands the Occu­piers may ulti­mately embrace; they could begin now to focus their power on elec­tions, the pri­mary means our democ­racy has pro­vided for its own defense.  It is time to OCCUPY ELECTIONS, to storm not the Bastille but county and town clerks’ offices all across Amer­ica with signed com­mit­ments to work as vote coun­ters and observers on Elec­tion Day, begin­ning this win­ter with the pri­maries.   And then to actu­ally OCCUPY THE ELECTIONS by assem­bling at polling places to relieve the com­put­ers from duty, to take their place, replac­ing secret cyber-counting by par­ti­san pro­gram­mers with open, observ­able count­ing by cit­i­zens.  It doesn’t get much more demo­c­ra­tic than that!

The Occu­piers could become a national mili­tia for democ­racy, resolved to count the ballots—all the ballots—in the open, in pub­lic.  And also rouse their fel­low cit­i­zens to join them in this fun­da­men­tal duty to democ­racy, fatally for­got­ten in this age of convenience-uber-alles.  Yes there would still be Cit­i­zens United and lots of work to do, but even gobs of cor­po­rate cash would soon run out of steam when it comes to buy­ing votes and thwart­ing the pub­lic will. To add a bit to Lin­coln, “You can’t fool all of the peo­ple all of the time … but elec­tion rig­ging can make it look like you did.”  Years of data-gathering and analy­sis tell us that America—fooled, fooled again, snook­ered, cheated, stolen—would awake from its night­mare and be a very dif­fer­ent and a whole lot fairer nation if hon­est elec­tions were restored.

This could be the moment of truth.  It is def­i­nitely a moment of choice, a moment of focus.  If it passes, all that’s left may be the Bastille and the agony that follows.

 Posted by at 7:31 am
Dec 012011
 

Obfus­ca­tion! Favored tool of those wield­ing power over us from behind the cur­tain.  They who con­vince us that lib­er­als are weak-spined Fran­cophiles, or that they can pay-off the debt by low­er­ing our taxes. They play Three-Card Monte with our atten­tion spans while they sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­man­tle the remains of our Repub­lic.  But on rare occa­sions a Con­gres­sional vote approaches that is impos­si­ble to cloak – and if we pay even a tee­nie bit of atten­tion, we will see who cares about us (99%) and who cares about them (1%).

Such will be the case later this week when the Sen­ate tries to vote on extend­ing the payroll-tax hol­i­day. The Repub­li­cans will oppose it—that is to say, the Repub­li­cans will sup­port a tax increase on work­ing Amer­i­cans. And why? Because the Democ­rats want to pay for it with a small sur­tax on the very top earn­ers. So the choice couldn’t be more direct: which is more impor­tant, giv­ing the mid­dle class a tax cut or pro­tect­ing those who make more than $1 mil­lion a year? Repub­li­cans are mak­ing it clear. This vote alone should destroy them.

The facts: The Social Secu­rity pay­roll tax comes to 12.4 per­cent of an employee’s salary—employers and employ­ees each pay 6.2 per­cent. The money goes into the Social Secu­rity Trust Fund and finances ben­e­fits. At the end of last year, the Obama admin­is­tra­tion, in exchange for tem­porar­ily extend­ing the Bush tax rates on all income lev­els, got Con­gress to agree to a one-year 2 per­cent payroll-tax hol­i­day for employ­ees, down to 4.2 per­cent. For a $50,000 earner, that meant pay­ing $1,000 a year less in pay­roll taxes. It was agreed in that law that the hol­i­day would cost the Social Secu­rity Trust Fund nothing—the depleted rev­enue would be replaced out of the gen­eral trea­sury. So the hol­i­day adds to the gen­eral deficit but does not affect the trust fund.

The cut proved pop­u­lar, or is pre­sumed to be pop­u­lar, so now, as many peo­ple pre­dicted last year, Con­gress wants to extend it. Repub­li­cans of course say (as they say of every­thing) that it hasn’t done any good. But econ­o­mists attest to its stim­u­la­tive value. Two econ­o­mists at the Eco­nomic Pol­icy Insti­tute say end­ing the hol­i­day would reduce GDP by $128 bil­lion and cost 972,000 jobs in 2012. The EPI is a lib­eral out­fit, but Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who advised John McCain in 2008, agrees that rais­ing the pay­roll tax back to where it was could cause another recession.

And besides those macro­eco­nomic con­cerns, there is the sim­ple ques­tion of money in people’s pock­ets as they try to tough out the econ­omy. A thou­sand dol­lars to a $50,000 earner, or $1,500 to a $75,000 earner, isn’t nothing.

What the Sen­ate Democ­rats want to do now is this. They want to increase the employee’s reduc­tion from 2 per­cent to 3.1 per­cent (that is, to cut it in half from the nor­mal 6.2 per­cent rate). And they now want, for the first time, to extend the hol­i­day to employ­ers as well. This is impor­tant, and it prob­a­bly won’t be well explained in very many places. But the Democ­rats would have employ­ers pay 3.1 per­cent (rather than the 6.2 per­cent they now pay) on the first $5 mil­lion of their pay­roll. Also, if employ­ers add to their pay­rolls, they would pay no pay­roll tax on new hires. So the new bill is specif­i­cally aimed at help­ing the job cre­ators. The total cost is $255 billion.

The Democ­rats want to pay for it with a 3.5 per­cent sur­tax on dol­lars earned over $1 mil­lion per year. In other words, if some­one earns $1.3 mil­lion a year, she will pay the extra 3.5 per­cent only on the last $300,000 in earn­ings; that is, an extra $10,500 a year (bear in mind that this per­son takes home, after taxes, around $30,000 every two weeks). So it cer­tainly raises the taxes of the very wealth­i­est. But it gives more money back to middle-class peo­ple, and it stim­u­lates the econ­omy, per­haps to the tune of 50,000 jobs a month, maybe even more.

Mitch McConnell unsur­pris­ingly announced his oppo­si­tion to it Mon­day. And yes, this is the same Mitch McConnell who said in Jan­u­ary 2009 that a two-year sus­pen­sion of the pay­roll tax “would put a lot of money back in the hands of busi­nesses and in the hands of indi­vid­u­als,” and that “Repub­li­cans, gen­er­ally speak­ing, from Maine to Mis­sis­sippi, like tax relief.”

Well, that was then. Now three things have changed. One, the idea was a Repub­li­can one back then; now it’s a Kenyan one. That alone is enough to make it poi­son to them. Two, extend­ing the hol­i­day will help the econ­omy at a moment when Repub­li­cans are now very clearly try­ing to hurt the econ­omy. This is not even a con­tro­ver­sial thing to say any­more, it’s so obvi­ous. And three, now there’s a price tag on it; it has to be paid for in some way, and that way is a sur­tax on super-high incomes. And this above all is what the GOP can­not accept. These are the mak­ers, not the tak­ers, in Paul Ryan’s obscene for­mu­la­tion.

It’s sick­en­ing to watch them lie about this one. Ari­zona Sen. Jon Kyl hit two major talk­ing points on TV over the week­end:

The prob­lem here is that the pay­roll tax doesn’t go into gen­eral rev­enue, it sup­ports Social Secu­rity. And you can’t keep extend­ing the payroll-tax hol­i­day and have a secure Social Secu­rity. That’s the first problem …

By tax­ing the peo­ple who pro­vide the jobs, you put off the day we have eco­nomic recov­ery and job cre­ation in this coun­try. And that’s pre­cisely what the Demo­c­ra­tic plan would do. It would hit those peo­ple, the small busi­nesses who we all acknowl­edge are the ones who cre­ate the jobs com­ing out of eco­nomic difficulty.

Both state­ments are lies. The first is another one of those not-intended-to-be-factual state­ments for which he is renowned. The Social Secu­rity Trust Fund is not affected by the new pro­posal any more than it was for the orig­i­nal one-year hol­i­day last year. The sec­ond state­ment is the usual GOP talk­ing point on this—we’re pro­tect­ing small businesses—but it’s espe­cially lame in the con­text of this pro­posal. Don’t most small busi­nesses have pay­rolls under $5 mil­lion? Of course they do. Those employ­ers will directly ben­e­fit from this law. And busi­nesses large or small will pay noth­ing on new hires.

How a party can so nakedly rep­re­sent only the top 1 per­cent while at the same time try­ing to stop any­thing that will help the econ­omy, and sur­vive while doing it, is beyond me.

So the bill will cut taxes on middle-income peo­ple and on small employ­ers. And it won’t get a sin­gle Repub­li­can vote. Maybe one—Scott Brown might have to back it. But they will block this. They will hope instead that Harry Reid even­tu­ally (before the end of the year) per­mits a one-year exten­sion at the cur­rent 2 per­cent rate that is paid for out of the gen­eral trea­sury. In which case the GOP will be vot­ing to increase the deficit! Yep, the deficit-hawk party would sooner add a cou­ple of hun­dred bil­lion to the deficit than impose a sur­tax on peo­ple who make more than $1 mil­lion a year. Yes, really.

This is the most ran­cid dis­play yet on the GOP’s part. And I think you’ll agree there is no lack of com­pe­ti­tion for that man­tle. Hav­ing the stones to cam­paign against Obama’s “Medicare cuts” in 2010 when all they want to do is cut Medicare was up there, but this is even worse. How a party can so nakedly rep­re­sent only the top 1 per­cent while at the same time try to stop any­thing that will help the econ­omy, and sur­vive while doing it, is just beyond me. Obama should give an Oval Office speech Wednes­day night and say: “If you are an employee and make less than $1 mil­lion, or if you are an employer of any size, I am try­ing to give you a tax cut. If you are an employee who makes more than $1 mil­lion a year, you should write and thank your Repub­li­can sen­a­tor, because the Repub­li­cans are block­ing me and help­ing you.”

Bon chance, mon ami!

 

 Posted by at 11:03 am
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