Author Archives: Irv Lefberg

About Irv Lefberg

My name is Irv Lefberg. I have spent most of my working life in Washington State, first as a professor at the University of Washington, and then, for thirty years, as an applied economist, forecaster, and manager in Washington State Government. I worked in non partisan positions. My role was to provide the best possible facts, information and analysis to the public and to public officials of both major parties. I was born and raised in Brooklyn in the 1950s; earned a bachelors degree at the City College of New York; and a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I “retired” from government work in 2010 and moved to the San Diego area where I spend most of my time doing photography, photo restoration, and showing my photographic work at art galleries, fairs, and shows.

A U.S. Parliament: Imagine All the Parties

The State Coffers

The State Coffers

If grandma had wheels she’d be a bus. If Eleanor Roosevelt could fly she would have bombed Dresden. And if the U.S. had a Parliamentary System, like most of the world’s democracies, it would have seven viable parties. Or at least that’s my best guess. In a Parliamentary System, the legislature chooses the prime minister, thus the executive and legislative bodies are intertwined; for better or worse. I’m on the “better” right now.

A Parliamentary System just ain’t going to happen in the U.S., but imagining it, illuminates the forces and fragments that shape American politics today. It also reminds us how inadequately the Left-Right, Liberal-Conservative, and Democrat-Republican dichotomies reflect the thinking of average Americans about politics.

The effort here to sketch a more accurate political map of the U.S. has serious limitations; but,  it’s a start, as much as can be done in a 1000 word essay. My seven imaginary U.S. Parliamentary Parties don’t include numerous likely Splinter Parties;  perhaps the Anti Common Core Union; the anti GMO Food Alliance; and so on.

My best (educated) guess is that no more than two thirds of the current U.S. electorate would actively identify with one of these seven parties. The rest are independents, swing voters, non participants, marginally attached, or splinter party voters. Also, I don’t include an Independent Party among the seven. Take a look at this good PEW article, decomposing the political universe a different way, but with good survey based numbers.

Here is the list of the seven main, viable parties in my imaginary U.S. Parliament, not in order of (suspected) popularity:

1. Nationalist Party. Akin to Tea Party, with populist core. Leader(s): Cruz,
Santorum.

2. Business Party. A.K.A., Corporatist Party; includes current “establishment” R’s.
Leaders (s): Bush, Romney, Fiorina.

3. Family Values Party. Main line, solid social conservatives, evangelicals, religious
voters. Leaders (s): Huckabee.

4. Freedom Party. Akin to Libertarian Party; Ayn Rand is their philosopher queen.
Leaders (s): Rand Paul, Paul Ryan.

6. Social Democrat Party. Essentially the Warren-Sanders Democrat Wing:
Leader (s): Warren, DeBlasio, Sanders.

7. Green Party. Intense and active greeners and environmentalists. Leader (s): Jerry
Brown. (He’s tried making California an international leader everything Green).

There is of course a lot of overlap among the first four parties, And also within the last three. By “viable,” I mean these seven parties would consistently earn enough support, at least 3%-5% of the vote in most elections, a common threshold for holding seats in a parliament. Perhaps three or four would emerge as perennial competitors with large pluralities (maybe 15% to 35%).

After the election (of the legislators), if no party has more than a majority of seats in Congress, they try to form a (stable) coalition to select a Prime Minster. That’s where the real fun begins. There are countless possibilities. Here is one of many:

Barrack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) as head of the Center-Left Party in 2012, would have invited the Social Democrats and Green Partiers to join a governing coalition. If that was not enough to hit 51%, (not an implausible scenario), the Business Party (of establishment Republicans) might have been played ball with them. Stranger things have happened. That would have amounted to the Grand Bargain around budget, revenues, and maybe even immigration, that eluded Boehner and Obama. It would have driven the Tea Partiers crazy. The possibilities are endless.

The first four parties in the list represent factions, wings, segments of the current Republican Party, people who identify themselves as “conservative,” and some of today’s independents who tend to vote Republican (if they vote at all).

The last three parties on the list are, for the most part, factions of the current U.S. Democratic Party, people who identify themselves as “liberals” or “progressives.”  The Center-Left party imagined here is a lot larger than the other (Warren-Sanders) segment of today’s Democrats – what I here call the Social-Democrats. That’s based on real data.

But if Social Democrats had their own party, identity, and profile, they might draw a lot more from the Center-Left, which I take to include many closet Social Democrats who are pragmatists; they know they couldn’t win if they threw caution to the wind.

Notice that I don’t include a Center-Right party in my list, though the Business Party in this typology comes close. Republicans are a lot more fragmented and intense than Democrats. In a multi party system, they’re not as likely to have a broad based, big tent umbrella counterpart to the Center-Left Party; again, the Business Party may qualify.

Short of endorsing the Parliamentary over the Presidential system, we can say this: government shutdowns, brinkmanship on paying the Federal debt, and (arbitrary, ill considered) sequestrations (automatic budget cuts) would have likely been averted with a U.S. Parliament.

See you at the next constitutional convention to adopt amendments to overturning Citizens United; and, if there is time, perhaps creating a U.S. Parliament. If you want to read more about pros and cons of adopting a Parliamentary System in the U.S., read here, here, and here.

 

 

 

The California Drought and Inequality: So What’s New?

There was once water here

There was once water here

At first blush, the California Drought and Inequality are not intimately related. Yes, some class warfare has broken out around water usage and new conservation rules.   But that’s not what the title of the blog post is about.  What do the California Drought and Economic Inequality in the U.S. have in common?  The answer is: Neither are nearly as unique or exceptional, as we’re prone to think, because of our blinders and narrow perspectives.  In the great span of geologic time and economic history, each problem, in it’s own realm,  is more the norm, than the exception; more typical than unusual,  It’s important to know this, because, as the adage goes, you must know your enemy to defeat him.

On the Economic Inequality side, it is gradually sinking-in that the period of (relative) equality during the roughly 40 years after World War II, is an historical anomaly for the U.S; an exceptional era, when stars were aligned to create a large middle class that included a large swathe of the “working class.”

On the Drought side, you may be very surprised to learn that the period of explosive growth in Southern California (and the rest of the Southwest) — the 1970s, 80s, and 90s — occurred during the wettest decades in the last two millennia.  Yes, that’s 2000 years, or back to “ancient times.”  That’s not at all exaggerated. Scientists at the U. of Arizona and Columbia U. have built a remarkable hydrology data base dating back to ancient times, which says that the areas we know as California and the U,S. Southwest experienced numerous droughts in the past, more severe than the current one, lasting decades, not just a few years. Read about it and listen to a riveting discussion here.  If you want more technical (and cool) information, try this and this.

Thus, water conditions in Southern California (and most of the Southwest) over the last 15 years would have been considered normal, neither unprecedented nor dire, centuries ago. The situation today is dire” only because we built civilizations where nature may not have intended.  And the technology and ingenuity to overcome nature, may have reached its limits. The situation is real bad.  Here are some amazing photographs of today’s California Dust Bowl.  These are not shown much outside California, because the disaster is proceeding too slowly for the appetites of cable and network news.

Don’t hold your breath or bet on California pistachios while waiting for cheap Mega Desalinization, though MIT is trying hard to overcome the expense and impracticalities of using sea water for drinking and irrigation.  Stay tuned.  Another avenue of hope are the amazing Israeli desalinization efforts, to the point where Israel now has more water than it can use.

In terms of the economy, the several decades from the end of World War II, through the late 1970s, which liberals view as a model for compassionate capitalism, is glaringly atypical in American history, at least back to about 1910.  Piketty & Saez, have documented that, to the satisfaction of most mainstream economists.  You can find all of that data if you start from here.  There is some evidence that Inequality was also the general rule in the U.S. for most of the 19th century, but that is much harder to confirm.

The precise conditions making it possible for wider prosperity in the decades following WW II were never sustainable; some of the factors we don’t want repeated.  The special circumstances include the Great Depression, which ushered in New Deal regulatory, tax, and labor reforms; the economic boost from World War II, the mother of all stimulus packages; and America’s emergence from the Great War as the only intact industrial economy in the world.

The best advice to Drought warriors: Start looking at the Drought as something that doesn’t just end in a few years. The best counsel for Inequality warriors: Stop looking at Inequality as something that will correct itself as soon as job growth accelerates and labor markets tighten.

One difference between the California (Southwest) Drought and Economic Inequality is that lack of water in the Region is natural (going back at least two millennia); while Inequality (arguably) is not natural, not an inevitable result of capitalism, globalization, or human DNA. The leading academic behind the view that Inequality is man made, and can be lessened considerably, with the right policies, and to the betterment of all, is Joseph Stiglitz. He’s a capitalist of the Roosevelt variety (both Teddy and FDR). He’s not a communist.

Am sure you are asking whether human caused global warming is contributing to the Great Drought, which would mean it’s not totally natural. In fact, most mainstream climate scientists believe global warming caused by humans, is exacerbating the current Drought; making it worse than it would otherwise be. You can read about some of that here and here.

Whether or not you believe the Drought or Inequality is a return to a natural state of affairs, it appears there is more hope for rebuilding the U.S. middle class, than for preserving the California life style, as we’ve known it.  There may be other good reasons for not preserving all of it.

After the U.S. middle class has been rehabilitated, they may not be flocking in such large numbers to California, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas anymore.  If the Great Drought had happened sooner, the Dodgers might still be in Brooklyn.

Channeling Elizabeth Warren: What an Uncensored Liz Might Say About the Hillary Clinton Announcement

What was Elizabeth Warren thinking as Hillary Clinton formally announced her candidacy for President?   What would Liz be saying if she was not a realistic and committed Democrat?  Let’s channel the more aggressive, less practical side of the Massachusetts Senator, imagining what she might tweet.  On the Sunday morning talk shows, Liz says she too is “ready for Hillary.”   Perhaps she really is!  The line that stood out most from Hillary’s announcement yesterday was: “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” That’s vintage Warren.

Nonetheless, here are five imaginary, edgy Warren tweets that were never sent. And won’t be.

1. Over more than two decades, the Clintons advanced and accelerated fundamental policies which have helped America edge closer to oligarchy than it’s been in more than a 100 years.

[Ed. Note: This process began well before the Clintons arrived on the scene. The U.S. is perhaps at a quarter to twelve on that clock; not yet mid night].

2. Bill and Hillary drank a lot of the post 1970s De-regulation Kool-Aid, some of which was sound and needed; but overall (in its zealotry) harmed a lot of average people.

[Ed.Note: The post 1970s De-regulation Movement, reversed a lot of Progressive era and New Deal policies aimed at (harmful) concentrations of wealth and power and protections for consumers and labor. While some deregulation fostered more competition, a good (rhetorical question) looms: “Is there a single example of consumer prices going down and market competition increasing after deregulation of a U.S. industry?”]

3. Speaking of deregulation, the Clintons were totally on board to gut decades old financial regulations in 1999 which had protected average people’s money from being squandered in risky big bank investments.

[Ed. Note: In 1999, Democrats led by Bill Clinton and Republicans by Senator Phil Gramm, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which had (among other things), separated commercial and investment banking. That enabled big banks to use the money of average people and (barely) middle class home buyers to make risky investments. The ensuing crash decimated the wealth in the middle.  Repeal of Glass-Steagall was of course not the only reason for the crash, but it played a big part].

4. The Clintons have been gung-ho NAFTA style free traders, and brought a lot of other Democrats with them. The form of free trade they supported helped decimate the wages and benefits of U.S. workers.

[Ed. Note: For U.S. multinational companies, in particular, NAFTA has been a way to keep a lid on worker wages and benefits, and avoid thorny regulations (which presumably restrain trade).  This is not your father’s, nor David Ricardo and Adam Smith, Classic Free Trade. There is evidence that trade pacts help nations avoid conflict. That’s good. But that has costs which need to be borne by all of society, not just average people].

5. Clintonian Welfare Reform left many poor people with no work or low wage, subsistence jobs. Democrats’ support for “welfare reform” helped feed Republican ideology around “free-loading” and Romney’s 47 percent theory.

[Ed. Note: New Deal and Great Society welfare (public assistance) needed to be reformed. But Clinton policies were long on getting people off welfare rolls (and maybe into work), and short on providing the right training (or apprenticeships) to find decent paying jobs. These are the main criticisms of Clinton welfare reform.  Arguments that trumpet the policy’s success are represented here].

Channeling Elizabeth Warren’s aggressive side as it might view the Clinton presidential candidacy was a revelation.  It was soon clear that most of the words pouring out didn’t do a very good job of separating Hillary from Bill. Is that sexist?  And unfair?  Perhaps both,  though surely not intentionally.

The problem is that we don’t know very much about Hillary’s position on wage stagnation, inequality, financial sector regulation, free trade, the condition of the middle class, and many  other core and defining financial and economic issues of our time.

That’s partly because Hillary dealt mostly in foreign affairs during the years these issues have been front and center.  But she has also avoided saying much about them, beyond high level generalities.  She won’t be able to continue doing that much longer.

If she watched the video announcing Hillary’s presidential run, am sure that Warren appreciated her saying “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”  That is, indeed, vintage Warren!   But it still falls in the platitudinous category.  It will be fascinating to see how the cross word puzzle is filled-in over the next twenty months.

Automatic Voter Registration: Is Oregon’s New Law a Game Changer?

A Path for Voters?

A Path for Voters? [click on photo to check out Irv Lefberg Photograph]

The short answer is: Oregon’a automatic registration law isn’t about to spread like wildfire to other states, where most legislatures and governors are trying to make it harder, not easier, for citizens to vote. Ballot measures in the states may be a way for other states to adopt the Oregon approach. But if the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case dealing with legislative re-districting, limits what voters can do to change electoral laws, the Oregon measure is even less likely to spread. Still, if you favor gains in voter turnout, Oregon’s effort is an inspiration.

(Maybe ALEC, the aggressive and wildly successful, conservative organization that provides model legislation for its ideological comrades in state legislatures, will make automatic voting spring up all over the U.S.    Just kidding, of course).

By almost any gauge, the state of Oregon took a radical step toward making it possible for every citizen over the age of eighteen to vote. The State passed a law which automatically registers everyone who has official contact with its motor vehicle department (DMV). The Oregon law allows an automatically registered voter to opt out. Of course, non-citizens won’t be registered.

You may recall the 1993 federal measure, dubbed “Motor-Voter,” requiring state DMVs to provide opportunities for voter registration.  Motor-Voter is an ancestor of the Oregon law. In retrospect, that law, maybe radical for it’s time, was toothless and passive by comparison. Oregon’s measure can rightly be called “Motor -Voter” on steroids.

A few say Oregon wimped out by not making voting compulsory, like in Australia.  Deep skepticism about the value of every citizen voting is in America’s DNA, starting with our Constitution. If every state adopted the Oregon method, another 50 million people would be (automatically) eligible to vote. That would elate some, and horrify others.

As mentioned earlier, Oregon didn’t go as far as Australia, and about ten other democracies in the world that legally require citizens to vote.  Does compulsory voting sound excessive? Perhaps. But In Australia you wouldn’t have a situation, like in the 2014 U.S. mid term elections, where about 18 to 25 percent of the adult citizenry (depending how you calculate it), gave Republicans control of the U.S. Senate and two additional governorships.

Rarely have any of our President’s, D’s or R’s, been elected by more than 30 to 35 percent of voting eligible citizens.  Even if a candidate garners 60% of the vote, with barely 60% turnout, just 35% of the electorate has made the decision — and that’s in a “landslide” and in a high turnout year.

Don’t look for legislatures and governors in any fiery red states, or for that matter, Wisconsin or Ohio, to jump on the Oregon band wagon. But, in theory, people in some states can push for something like the new Oregon automatic registration law through ballot measures.

Can that work?  Perhaps, in a few places, and with a lot of effort and money. But reformists will encounter opposition lawyers who say the U.S. Constitution empowers only state “legislative bodies” to change electoral laws; that “the people” acting through initiatives or referenda are not legislative bodies, and thus can’t change electoral systems on their own.

That’s precisely the argument in a case out of Arizona, recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. It involves a voter approved ballot measure which empowered an “independent commission,” rather than sitting legislators, to draw state legislative and congressional district boundary lines. It’s a highly worthy effort to prevent politicians from perpetuating their power.  (I expect the Supreme Court to over turn it).

The outcome of that case may have enormous implications for representative government in the U.S., not only for re-districting.  It can also determine whether automatic voter registration has any chance at all to spread beyond the Pacific Northwest in the foreseeable future.

U.S. voter participation has always been tepid.  For most of the nation’s history,  the Constitution and state laws denied the vote to women, blacks, and citizens under 21. Even white males who didn’t own property couldn’t legally vote in all U.S. states till 1856.  Even as legal barriers to voting were stripped away by amendments to the U.S and state Constitutions, and by Acts of Congress, voter participation rates in the U.S. have lagged behind, and still trail, those in nearly all other advanced (genuinely) democratic polities.

In the halcyon, “Leave it to Beaver,” days of the 1950s and early 60s, most political scientists thought low voter turnout in the U.S. was a good thing — that it signified Americans’ satisfaction with their economic conditions, government, and direction of the country. All was well; there were no rascals to throw out. There may have been some (minimal and perfunctory) truth to that in the 1950s.

A Whiny Ex-Bureaucrat’s Take on Clinton E-Mail Gate, Sunshine Laws, and Public Disclosure

sunsets08

The Sun Going Down, But Not on Government

Who can possibly be against Sunshine and Transparency in government?  Some Hillary detractors think she is.  Same is being said about Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who handled their e-mails about the same way Hillary did. They have all been burnt by the insatiable appetite for disclosure of everything a public official says or does, 24/7. Like all others in public life, they’ve been victims of a good thing, pushed too far by zealots on both the left and right who think no amount of Sunshine is enough to keep government in check. Like the words from the John Denver song, Sunshine makes the watchdogs happy and high.

No violins for the beleaguered bureaucrat class here, but a little light from a whiny ex-bureaucrat who saw from the inside what too much Sunshine has done to government. That perspective gets no airing, just like the version of SAD, which no one hears about, where too much sunshine, not too little, makes it hard to function.

The most harmful effects of ever greater Sunshine are not on the careers of politicians and public employees – no one cares about them anyway — but how it inhibits the flow of information inside government; the way it makes (good) deals between allies and rivals alike harder to achieve; and (constructive) compromise more difficult to attain.

In Honor of Sunshine Week

In Honor of Sunshine Week

Sunshine and Public Disclosure laws are of course generally good, very good. But they have side effects not clearly labeled on the kool-aid bottle; or on all the happy good government websites. (Here is one example).  In fact, we just had “Sunshine Week” (March 15-21) brought to you by Bloomberg, The Gridiron Club, and numerous press organizations. The “gridiron club”?

Sunshine and Public Disclosure laws, and their flag ship, The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and all the little FOIAs, have done their job. Public workers have been censured or fired for appalling abuses and negligence. The most heart rending are in programs like nursing home, mental health, and child protective services, where negligence, cover-ups, and under-funding are life and death matters. All manners of corruption, inefficiency, and egregious waste inside government have been disclosed and prosecuted using the FOIAs.

That said, here are some other things about Sunshine run amuck that you hear very little about:

Hacks in both major political parties, and the “non partisan” fanatics who get tax exemptions from the IRS for improving “social welfare,” bombard governments and agencies hourly with requests (legally supported “demands” under FOIAs), for paper documents, e-mails, text messages, phone records, notes scribbled on pads, recordings, reports, photographs, you name it, in search of real or imagined abuses. These items may disclose some terrible wrong doings in government, but they are also the raw materials for scandal mongering and the life blood of opposition “research.”

Too many requests (demands) for information are unabashed fishing expeditions. Some are efforts to harass public workers so they can’t get their work done; so that anti-government zealots can prove bureaucrats don’t get their work done

Then there are the cranks, trouble-makers and malcontents (working inside governments) who find the public disclosure laws highly accommodating when they want to make life miserable for a boss or a colleague they happen to despise. These include the trolls who make digging for dirt and “whiste-blowing” a hobby and fetish. (Along with those who do it for the right reasons).

These are not the worst side effects of (too much) Sunshine. The most damaging are the chilling effects on information sharing and collaboration inside government; not just across political aisles, but also among workers “on the same side,” or not on any “side,” of an issue, just seeking the right or best answer.

Too much sunshine impairs deliberation, political deals and compromise (in the best senses). It gets in the way of candor, the unfettered search for solutions, the sharing of important information up and down the chain of an organization, or laterally.  Once you fully realize that (just about) anything you put in an e-mail may wind up on the front page of the newspaper or on the nightly news, or in a law suit (with or without merit), the chilling effect is huge.

Some real and imagined anecdotes: A skittish staffer who shuns e-mail fails to tell his Boss that the draft health care bill is unclear about who’s eligible for subsidies. A signal from a political rival’s staffer looking to make a deal never get’s transmitted. A governor or mayor is unprepared for a high stakes tax negotiation because the writer of the policy brief didn’t trust her paper was non-discloseable.

Bureaucrats need some cover when they’re trying to be honest with their bosses about the risks of a proposed policy; or when they float a balloon to an adversary in a delicate negotiation.

Sunshine laws have of course been a great tool for open and good government.  But even Sunshine comes at a price. Like for some miracle medications, there are ways to mitigate the worst side-effects.  Sunshine cast on the Sunshine laws would be a good start.

An Encryption Angle on the Clinton E-Mail Affair

An Encrypted Message?

An Encrypted Message?

Hillary Clinton’s problem with her e-mails are raising questions about judgment, honesty, and the security of her communications while Secretary of State. I’ll leave it for others to decide whether this is just a “bunch of hooey,” in a long string of ferocious “anti Clinton propaganda,” as Clinton ally and confidant, James Carville says; or if it has real substance. Regardless, all of this is now fare for the “Road to the White House, ” and puts Benghazi issues on the first page of Google searches again.

For the nerd writing this blog, the most important questions raised by Clinton E-mail Gate are around the security of electronic transmissions (generally); and especially the role and potential of Encryption, or lack thereof. (Here is a good sketch of how Encryption works).

These questions are the same, now all-too-familiar ones, raised in the NSA/Snowden affair; British intelligence agency (GCHQ) spying on news organizations; and the hacking of Sony, which almost brought that company to its knees, while making public some very embarrassing e-mails by it’s executives.

One of the first questions that should have been asked about Hillary’s private server and e-mail system, was whether her technicians used any form of Encryption, at least for e-mails in transit.  The only answer that has surfaced so far comes from a Bloomberg News report that hasn’t received much attention.  It says that Mrs. Clinton’s email-server had a “mis-configured encryption system.”

It’s not clear exactly what that means, other than her tech consultants tried installing some form of routine encryption, but botched the job. According to the Bloomberg story, “although Clinton worked hard to secure the private system, her consultants appear to have set it up with a misconfigured encryption system, something that left it vulnerable to hacking…..”

Further research reveals that building a robust, easy to use, universal, turnkey, Encryption system for all e-mail, is a lot harder than most of us realize; logistically, more than technically, if you can separate the two.

Years after British journalists were spied on by their government’s intelligence agency, The Guardian found that news organizations like the Associated Press, Le Monde, LA Times, CBS News, Forbes, Baltimore Sun, and Der Spiegel were still lax in protecting journalists and their sources from surveillance; still putting all of the people who communicate with them at risk of being spied on.

You’d think today’s tech geniuses could find a way to help us all routinely and robustly Encrypt our e-mail. But, as “Digital Trend’s,” Geoff Duncan put it: “the bottom line is that email as we know it today has never been secure, and the myriad ways we send, receive, store, and use email messages makes fully securing email a very difficult problem; at best.” This,  from an established tech company specializing in personal and custom networks and servers, like, perhaps, the consultants Hillary used.

Even many among us fixated on privacy have second thoughts about strong Encryption when they learn what it may really mean. Not only is it tedious and arduous to get there, but it’s questionable whether you could ever search your own e-mails (easily,  if at all) if they were encrypted on Google servers. That’s both good and bad. The best (and relatively understandable) explanation I’ve found as to why this is so difficult, can be found here.

Actually, the big e-mail providers, like Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft appear to be closing in on this Holy Grail.  But, one formidable obstacle is U.S. Government security agencies, which are very worried about throwing away the Encryption key, so that no one except the users in the sender-receiver diad can ever decipher the message. That of course is really the whole point of strong Encryption.  But it would mean that NSA, for example, or it’s British counterpart, couldn’t decipher messages between terrorists planning an assault on a world cup soccer game.

Here is one vivid and very recent story about obstacles Google encountered offering user selectable Encryption for their customers.

Darrell Issa’s investigators would also be frustrated if a strong form of Encryption prevented them from finding out what Hillary might have written to the White House as the tragic Benghazi events unfolded?  She may not have written anything; if she did, it likely wound up on a (relatively) secure State Department server; or on a server (like at the White House’s or CIA’s) which may claim the Issa Committee is not entitled to see it.  The treacherous road to the White House!

What Difference Would It Make if We Said We’re in a Holy War with Islam?

The political Right, Left, and numerous News Media Outlets are all pre-occupied with how we talk about ISIS, and the dire threats emanating from the middle east. That’s because no one has a cure (right now) that isn’t worse than the disease.  So they talk about…….“how to talk about it.”  The linguists, however, are convinced that talking about ISIS one way, rather than another, is critical to a solution. Everyone from Left leaners Thomas Friedman and Andrea Mitchell, to Lindsey Graham  and Bill O’Reilly, on the Right, say the President’s reluctance to use the word “Islam” to identify the enemy, means he doesn’t understand the problem, and thus can’t mobilize the country and world effectively.  How preposterous!

Perhaps the most thoughtful piece written on this subject is by Fareed Zakaria.  It has not received much attention. You can find it here.  The key question, which is ignored by most of the commentators (Zakaria being an exception), is this:

“What difference would it make if the President and his team said everything they could to ‘remind us’ we are in an epic, Holy war with Islam?”  

What would U.S., France, Canada, or Germany do differently if we spoke that way?  Would it motivate the West to wage war against all of the two billion Muslims in the world?  Incite people to vandalize Mosques and harm peaceful Muslim citizens in Western societies? Carpet bomb countries that are more than 35% Muslim?  Create internment camps for Muslim citizens in Western countries (and maybe in Japan too)?

None of that is very funny and surely isn’t meant to be. But don’t the Friedmans and O’Reillys know such unthinkable solutions follow from the kind of ridicule heaped on the Administration for defending the concept that “we are not at war with Islam, but rather with those who are perverting it?”  (Maybe they do know, and want to push us toward some of those “solutions”?).

Nor does Graeme Wood’s elegant, and erudite, yet illogical, meandering, and deeply ambivalent piece in The Atlantic — the latest “must read” — add anything useful to the discussion.  Wood says ISIS is “very Islam” because it is motivated by an apocalyptic, end of times vision.  (Like Jim Jones/Jonestown and David Koresh/Waco).   Wood traces ISIS motivation to ancient Islamic doctrine. Hardly any Muslims today believe  that. So, what is Wood’s point?

These “insights” from a Harvard educated, liberal intellectual journalist really lit up the blogesphere and impressed commentators of all stripes. In the end, when pressed, Wood agreed with Zakaria, on his recent Sunday morning talk show, that the President is speaking appropriately about ISIS.

I guess Graeme Wood wants to be sure the President, and the rest of us with our heads in the sand, really understand that the ISIS vanguard wants to bring about an apocalypse and receive all the credit.  But don’t you think we all basically know that already – on some level — even if we’re not scholarly enough to find it’s philosophical roots in ancient Islam?  (And how many other theologies or religious movements have something similar in their distant pasts?)