Because you demanded it--no, not you, you, over there in the corner: the latest installment of This Week in America, our weekly peek at what's been happening in American politics, culture, and bears. Read all the links. Enjoy. Argue. Tell a friend.
This Week in Voting
The Supreme Court ruled this week that Arizona’s Proposition 200, requiring people to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote, is unconstitutional because it adds new, state-specific restrictions to a federal law (which already requires registrants to declare their citizenship, under penalty of perjury), which a state can’t do. Which should have been blindingly obvious, but Arizona passed it anyway. The ruling was 7-2 on most of the ruling (6-3 on another part), with conservative justice Scalia writing the majority opinion. The invaluable SCOTUSblog has the best explanation, as usual.
It’s a confusing ruling, however, as it also paves a way for states to petition the federal government to allow for more exclusion. As always, this blog’s view is that everyone who’s legally entitled to vote should be able to vote, and that no roadblocks ought to be placed in the way of exercising that right. A representative democracy is strongest when it has the most participation from its citizens. The trend of the last few years of Republican statehouses trying to limit the voting rights of certain groups is a worrying one on many levels, and we believe the federal government should be able to intercede when states attack the very foundation of the American system. (And what about all that in-person voter fraud? It hardly exists.)
Another notable aspect of this decision is that in his dissent, Clarence Thomas became the first Supreme Court justice to cite Bush v. Gore—which, when it was written, famously declared that it should not set any precedent. In the years since, it has in fact not been considered as a precedent in any other case, quite possibly because the legal reasoning behind it was flawed and it was thrown together in haste to make sure the votes in Florida weren’t recounted.
This Week in Scandal
It turns out, there really was a cover-up in the big IRS Scandal of 2013. And it turns out the perpetrator of that cover up was Representative Darrell Issa (R/CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee—the guy who has been “investigating” it all this time.
The committee interviewed dozens of IRS employees to determine whether there was White House involvement in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to target conservative and Tea Party 501(c)(4) organizations. Instead of releasing transcripts of those interviews, Issa released cherry-picked sections that seemed to back up his contention that the unfair targeting of those groups originated in Washington. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D/MD), the committee’s ranking Democrat, publicly complained about the impression Issa was presenting, and warned that if Issa didn’t release the full transcripts, he would. Instead, Issa continued to release cherry-picked portions that appeared to support his contention that the target was directed from higher levels of government.
So this week, Cummings followed through on his threat. And what do you know? It looks like Issa was deliberately trying to create a false impression. According to the Washington Post, “Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have just released a full transcript of testimony from a key witness in the investigation of IRS targeting of conservatives — and it appears to confirm that the initial targeting did originate with a low-level employee in the Cincinnati office.
It also shows a key witness and IRS screening manager – a self described conservative Republican — denying any communication with the White House or senior IRS officials about the targeting.”
What really happened here was that with the simultaneous rise of the Tea Party and the SCOTUS decision in the Citizens United case, IRS employees were deluged with applications for tax-free status for 501(c)(4) corporations. Given that these Tea Party organizations appeared to be blatantly political in nature (which is not allowable under 501(c)(4) rules), the IRS had to come up with a way to screen these applications. IRS employees put politics aside—as they should—and worked out a set of criteria, lumping these groups together for ease of discussion. There’s nothing scandalous about that.
But somebody was lying after all, covering up the truth about this much-hyped “scandal.” And it was the scandal-monger himself, Darrell Issa, cynically twisting the facts to try to damage the White House. How much taxpayer money has he spent spreading misinformation and covering up the facts? How many staff-hours have we paid for? The full transcripts are online as PDFs (part one and part two) if anybody’s interested in reading 200+ pages of interviews with IRS employees.
This Week in Border Crossings
For the last decade, the section of the US/Mexico border defined as the Tucson Sector—the stretch in which TWiA World Headquarters sits, twelve miles above the line—was the busiest region for illegal crossings. But not anymore—that distinction is now held by the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas.
[Side Note: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has scored the Senate’s version of comprehensive immigration reform, and finds that it’ll grow the economy, cut the deficit ($197 billion in the first decade, another $700 billion in the next), raise wages, and make the American workforce more productive. Not bad. Will it pass the full Senate, or even make it to the floor of the House? Hard to say. It would be destructive, not simply counterproductive, for it to be blocked in the House, but Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) won’t promise to bring it up for a vote if he’s not assured that a majority of Republicans will support it (even if it could pass with some Republicans and a majority if Democrats) Also, as when the CBO issued an optimistic projection for Obamacare, congressional Republicans (who love CBO scores when they come down in their favor) have a tendency to dismiss any CBO scores that support Democratic proposals. It’s already happening here. Here’s why they’re wrong.).]
(Additional Side Note: According to a new Gallup Poll, 87% of Americans support a pathway to citizenship—the most popular single aspect of comprehensive immigration reform.)
This Week in Long-Term Bad Planning
Republicans have been warning about the horrors of mounting deficits for so long, now that the deficit is actually shrinking, they no longer have an economic basis on which to oppose the White House and the Democrats. But they have to oppose the White House and the Democrats, since that’s their whole reason for being. So Senate Republicans have come up with a new twist in their ongoing budget talks with Democrats (House Republicans are still at the point where they won’t even entertain the possibility of discussions): they’re demanding that any budget negotiations address a 30-year timeframe instead of the traditional 10-year window. The problem they want to fight about isn’t a problem anymore, so they want to create a new, unsolvable problem.
Trouble is, nobody knows what the world will look like in 30 years. We can hope for a Jetsons-style existence, but while that’s probably unlikely, it’s also every bit as realistic as any projection Senate Republicans could make right now. In 1983, who could have predicted the internet? Reality TV? Mancations? Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait offer their thoughts on this absurd new twist, and explain why it’s really just a dodge to get out of having substantive negotiations.
What the country needs, though, are substantive negotiations. We need two political parties that are both interested in finding compromises that work. Instead, we get 30-year nonsense.
This Week in Weak Arguments
Whether Edward Snowden’s release of classified intelligence materials was good for the country or bad—whether he’s a hero or a traitor or something in between—is something that will be debated maybe forever. Certainly one can argue that the NSA’s net is too wide, that they don’t need the volume of data they’re amassing (and with that much data, processing it all is the biggest challenge. If you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, dragging ten other haystacks over doesn’t make the job easier). On the other hand, we want to be kept safe, and we want terrorist plots to be found out and disabled before people die.
One thing that is now certain about Snowden, though, is that he’s no genius. In an online Q&A, Snowden said, “Congress hasn't declared war on the countries [that have been subjected to U.S. surveillance] -- the majority of them are our allies -- but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the 'consent of the governed' is meaningless.”
To which really the only appropriate response is the classic, “No shit, Sherlock.”
We spy on countries we’re not at war with? Yes, we do. We always have. They’ve always spied on us, too. Does Snowden suppose we shouldn’t have been spying on the Soviet Union, when it existed, because we had not declared war on them? We shouldn’t be spying on Russia or Iran, today? Or North Korea? Or even allies, like Israel and Germany? Hell, we’re probably spying on Canada.
Furthermore, we should be gathering intelligence on all those places. We need to know what’s going on around the world. And further furthermore, we shouldn’t ask for public permission before gathering intelligence. That would be the same as running ads in those other countries, saying, “Hey, we’re sending spies in. Got any hotel recommendations?”
So, hero or traitor? Your mileage may vary. But hopelessly naive, and therefore, not the guy I want making decisions about what intelligence materials are exposed to the world at large and what secrets are kept? No doubt about it.
This Week in Hide & Seek
Olly olly oxen free...Jimmy Hoffa stays hidden.
This Week in Glamorous Science
The Crusaders weren’t all that healthy, as it happens.
This Week in Killer Asteroids
This Week in RIP
Brave, influential journalist/war correspondent Michael Hastings, who survived numerous war zones only to die, at age 33, in a car accident in Los Angeles. We here at TwiA World Headquarters have the greatest respect for journalists who are willing to put themselves in dangerous situations to bring us the truth, and will miss Hastings’s reporting. His last published story is here: Why Democrats Love to Spy on Americans (thanks to TwiA correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip).
Actor James Gandolfini delivered a lifetime of great performances during his 51 years.
This Week in Civil Engineering
Stunning photographs of a new subway line being constructed deep under New York City.
This Week in Paper Art
Miss Friends? Longing to visit Monica’s old apartment? Check this out.
This Week in Bears
A retrospective on Rosie, a star of the 1940s. “Her name is Rosie and she is an accomplished radio actress whose specialty is appearing as a bear on audience-participation shows which depend upon a shrieking crowd in the studio. She also supplies occasional bearish grunts and snorts for other programs and does a roller-skating performance for television shows. Rosie makes as much as $100 for an appearance, which is a lot of money for a 10-year-old bSear.”
Also, what happens if you’re up a tree and a bear wants a closer look at you?