The Wall Street Journal completely ignored the lingering effects of fiscal austerity in its synopsis of the catastrophic recession and sluggish recovery witnessed over the past five years.
In an article titled, "Financial Crisis: Lessons of the Rescue, A Drama in Five Acts," the Journal analyzed why the myriad government interventions did not create a dramatic economic turnaround with full employment and rising incomes. From the September 8 article:
Americans could rightly wonder why things are still so bad and ask if anything could be been done differently--some policy pursued, some step avoided--to have eased the prolonged economic pain.
After briefly summarizing the Bush and Obama administration's handling of the financial and auto bailouts, the Journal turned its attention to the perceived "failure" of fiscal and monetary stimulus in the wake of the recession.
Mr. Obama won congressional approval of tax cuts and spending increases that, by CBO's latest reckoning, added up to $830 billion over 10 years. The Fed cut short-term interest rates to zero in December 2008 and, nearly five years later, is promising to leave them there for another few years. Figuring that wouldn't be sufficient, it printed, electronically, about $2.8 trillion to buy bonds to push long-term rates down, an unprecedented show of monetary force.
Yet each year for the past few has opened with forecasts that this will be the one that the U.S. economy grows at 3% or better; each year so far has disappointed. CBO estimates that U.S. output of goods and services will be below its potential until 2017. Unemployment remains at levels once seen only in recessions.
In this light, the fiscal and monetary stimulus efforts look like failures, as Republicans frequently observe. Mr. Geithner points to unremitting bad luck: the European sovereign-debt crisis; the disruption following Japan's tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
Top Obama administration and Federal Reserve officials say today they would have preferred more government spending to make up for the shortfall in demand from the private sector.
The WSJ's recollection of economic history failed on two main points: ignoring the economic debate around the stimulus packages, and completely dismissing the lasting effects of Republican-led austerity measures.
First, the article overlooked the fact that the fiscal stimulus programs were likely too small to turn the economy around on their own. The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contributed $152 billion and $831 billion, respectively to recovery efforts. The bulk of that investment went to one-time personal and corporate tax credits, with remaining spending spread out over the next 10 years.
The magnitude of these programs was hotly contested in Washington, but many economists argued that neither stimulus went far enough. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman argued in January 2009 in The New York Times that the proposed Obama stimulus, then estimated to be a $775 billion package, was far too small.
Krugman even predicted that the Obama plan might only reduce the unemployment rate to 7.3 percent, where it stands today, a level that "could easily be spun by critics as a failure."
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the WSJ failed to acknowledge that, starting in 2011, the Keynesian interventions installed by both the Bush and Obama administrations were replaced by unprecedented fiscal austerity and budgetary constraint.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), the first priority of a newly minted and deficit-scared Republican House majority, installed immediate and future budget cuts that out-weighed the combined Bush and Obama stimulus acts.
According to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the BCA reduced discretionary spending by "more than $1 trillion over the ten years from 2012 through 2021" while also establishing a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction with the mandate to reduce the federal deficit by an additional $1.2 trillion over the same period. When that committee failed to arrive at a legislative solution, automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration" went into effect.
According to further analysis from the CBPP, Congress and the president had already agreed to more than $1.5 trillion in 10-year discretionary budget cuts by November 2012.
The WSJ's lament on the current state of the economy, which it perceives to be mired in perpetuity, made zero mention of these facts. It also fails to recognize what others have come to accept; fiscal austerity and paranoid deficit-constraint is hurting economic growth. The evidence is even more pronounced in Europe, where austerity-driven policymakers faced little progressive economic resistance, and the International Monetary Fund has recommended a reversal of policy to get back on track.
The problem plaguing the American economy is not the failure of stimulus; it is the presence of austerity.
A Wall Street Journal editorial pushed the myth that a Department of Justice lawsuit against credit rating agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) is retaliation for the company downgrading the U.S.'s credit rating, failing to note experts' explanations that the suit is likely a test case that may be used to bolster future action against other credit rating agencies and that the suit predates S&P's downgrade.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board rushed to the defense of recent Republican efforts to sabotage the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by intimidating officials, known as navigators, tasked with informing customers about health care options.
Under the ACA, a health care "Navigator" program was created to train counselors to help Americans understand new health care services available to them. The effort is modeled after an existing Medicare program that guides recipients through their available benefits. Navigators were scheduled to begin enrolling participants in insurance coverage on October 1, but Republican members of Congress recently seized upon the program as an opportunity to slow down the implementation of the ACA. On August 29, GOP members of the House sent a letter to approximately 60 percent of the nation's health care navigators, demanding thousands of pages of documentation and giving the officials a two-week deadline to comply. Rather than investigating the Navigator program nation-wide, the Republicans appeared to specifically target states where delays in the program could cause the greatest problems. As Salon explained:
All of the navigator grant recipients are based in states with federally facilitated exchanges and states partnering with the feds to stand up their marketplaces. Salon's analysis reveals that among these states, Republicans directed their inquiries to organizations in states with the largest uninsured populations.
Now, Republicans could easily respond that they targeted organizations in these states because they wanted to protect as many uninsured people as they can. But that would be another way of saying they hope their inquiry slows the enrollment process as much as possible. If the goal was to establish best practices for navigators, sending 50 organizations in states with large uninsured populations on the same wild goose chase is an odd way to go about it.
Think Progress noted that the Republican tactic "is reminiscent of the kind of practices Republicans had condemned over the summer, after news broke that the IRS subjected certain groups applying for 501 C4 nonprofit tax status to long, intrusive, questionnaires about their filings."
The WSJ editorial board defended the GOP's letter in a September 5 editorial, even mocking critics who think the targeted requests for documents are unreasonable:
With ObamaCare scheduled to launch on October 1, Democrats seem more than a little anxious about their ability to execute. That's the only fathomable explanation for their nervous breakdown over a routine House inquiry.
Prepare the fainting couches. HHS has responded by calling the GOP requests "a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about" the glories of national health care. Norm Ornstein, the American Enterprise Institute's house liberal, claims this is "another effort at sabotage" because the navigators won't be in the field while they're responding to the letters. Best of all, Henry Waxman claims to be shocked. The Democratic investigations specialist says the letters are "an abuse of your oversight authority," and he would know.
All of this outrage is part of the liberal alibi that Republicans are responsible if ObamaCare stumbles. But if the handsomely financed navigators can't spare an hour or two to comply with a congressional investigation, then the law must be in bigger trouble than Democrats care to admit.
The Navigator program has frequently been subjected to right-wing media attacks. Fox News' Megyn Kelly and Chris Stirewalt have baselessly speculated that the program might allow "unions and community advocacy groups" to steal patients' personal information, and Fox contributor Michelle Malkin once alleged the navigators would be "another Obama threat to American's privacy" based on what she called Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' "sordid snooping history."
Continuing right-wing media attacks on the Department of Justice's attempts to protect school integration in Louisiana, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly completely ignored the multiple federal court orders blocking a school voucher plan that may cause re-segregation.
Recently, right-wing media have been ignoring their proclaimed fidelity to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution by dismissing violations of civil rights law, supposedly out of sympathy for other persons of color unaffected by the racial discrimination in question.
The most prominent example of this paradoxical stance has been right-wing media's strenuous defense of the New York Police Department's (NYPD) stop and frisk policy on behalf of crime victims of color, despite the fact that federal courts have found it unconstitutionally discriminates against millions on the basis of race. This selective disregard for legal requirements when discussing significant civil rights holdings reemerged this week, with the announcement that the Department of Justice agrees with a recent federal court decision that found the school voucher program in Louisiana was not in compliance with a decades-old court order.
On August 27, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal responded by attacking the Department of Justice's attempt to bring Louisiana back into compliance with multiple desegregation orders potentially violated by the voucher plan, and accused Attorney General Eric Holder of betraying the principles of Martin Luther King Jr. According to the WSJ, "[a] black Attorney General ought to be applauding this attempt to fulfill MLK's dream of equal educational opportunity. His lawsuit turns racial justice on its head."
Fox News has followed this lead by offering ill-informed explanations of the Department of Justice's actions and Louisiana's integration requirements. On the August 29 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly didn't even bother to mention the current court orders or the fact that Louisiana could easily seek authorization from the relevant federal courts for its voucher plan, instead accusing Holder and President Barack Obama of "siding with the left."
The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore attacked striking fast-food workers' demands to increase the minimum wage by falsely claiming that such a raise would result in less teenage employment and more workplace automation.
Moore, a senior economics writer for the Journal, appeared on the August 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto to discuss the fast-food protests that are underway across the country. Moore claimed that strikers' demands, if met, would result in "a lot less teenagers hired for those kinds of jobs" and fast-food restaurants deciding to "substitute workers with machines and automated things":
Moore's claim that a higher minimum wage would negatively affect teenage employment is baseless. The Huffington Post quoted University of California, Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto, who was the lead author of a 2011 study on minimum wage and teen employment, explaining that those who "fight such [minimum wage] hikes, arguing that higher wages discourage growth, particularly in down economies" are not supported by her research:
Right-wing media repeatedly argue that increased turnout of voters of color demonstrates that strict voter ID requirements do not cause voter suppression, a relationship that experts note is a basic confusion of correlation with causation.
Right-wing media have repeatedly misrepresented the latest court opinion finding New York City has been unconstitutionally applying the common police tactic of stop and frisk and are now baselessly citing the murder rate in Chicago as an example of what will occur without this law enforcement practice.
Confronted by the most recent court opinion finding the version of stop and frisk implemented by the New York Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race and without reasonable suspicion, right-wing media have either ignored the constitutional flaws or have inaccurately assumed that the court held all stop and frisks unconstitutional.
In their defense of current practices a federal court found were not consistent with proper stop and frisks as described by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, right-wing media have also claimed that without police unconstitutionally stopping persons of color, New York City will descend into terror and criminality.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board has predicted that "the virtual war zone that was New York City from the 1970s through the early '90s" will return. Fox News hosts and contributors have called ending the unconstitutional practices that purportedly check the "disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men" and protect "people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York," a "disaster." The National Review Online editors warned the practice condemned by federal courts is nevertheless what is "prevent[ing] the city's backsliding into its pre-Giuliani state of criminal chaos[.]"
Compounding their dire but abstract warnings of the "mass murder" that will occur, right-wing media are now becoming more specific, pointing to Chicago as the future of a New York City without its current and unconstitutional stop and frisk tactics.
On the August 14 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling flatly claimed that the higher murder rate in Chicago is because it doesn't "have stop and frisk," continuing a string of recent Fox News comparisons between the two cities. The New York Post repeated this rhetoric, adding its own long-standing touch of exploiting victims of gun violence to promote stop and frisk as applied by the NYPD.
But right-wing media apparently is unaware Chicago, like many jurisdictions, already has stop and frisk.
The Wall Street Journal touted Ohio Gov. John Kasich's so-called success when it comes to creating jobs, dismissing data that shows the state is lagging in private sector job creation and that added jobs are often low-wage positions.
From the August 14 article profiling Kasich, who "boasts about his state's financial outlook":
Job growth is up. The Republican governor just signed what he calls "the biggest tax cut in the country" after converting a looming $7.7 billion budget deficit into a $2.5 billion surplus. Such success, he says, "would probably get a global CEO a giant bonus."
In fact, Ohio ranks ranks 47th in private sector job creation according to a Pew Research survey, and over the past year, the state has shown almost no job growth at all. Further, most of those created jobs have been in low-paying positions, with wages less than $15 an hour. Kasich, who made millions working for the doomed Wall Street titan Lehman Brothers, is no stranger to giant corporate bonuses, but in this case self-congratulation is premature.
It is unclear whether Kasich's policies have had a demonstrable effect on positive employment trends that developed long before he took office in January 2011. The auto bailout orchestrated by the Obama administration in 2009 is largely credited with delivering the state to the president in the 2012 election. Kasich opposed the auto bailout at the time, stating on the December 19, 2008, edition of The O'Reilly Factor that "Americans will say we don't mind helping them if they're going to be viable. If they're not going to be viable, we shouldn't throw good money after bad."
Even if credit is given to Kasich for his stewardship over the past two years, the Journal completely misses the mark in reporting his budget policies.
Kasich has seen a budget deficit return to surplus, but only through draconian cuts to state and local government operations -- including severe decreases in funding for education and women's health. Rather than gearing the state's budget surplus toward stimulative policies that would help put Ohioans back to work, Kasich's plan will favor tax cuts for the wealthy while shifting more of the burden onto Ohio families and consumers.
The Journal also quickly glosses over what it calls "new abortion restrictions that drew sharp criticism from Democrats," which are actually among the harshest in the country. In its rush to promote a Kasich "prescription" for the Republican Party going forward, and promote the governor's own ambitions for higher office in 2016, The Wall Street Journal failed miserably to tell the true story.
Right-wing media incessantly trumpet their fidelity to the U.S. Constitution while simultaneously accusing progressives of ignoring it, a position that has been abandoned in their attacks on the court decision holding New York City stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional.
On August 12, a federal district court held that while case law has long allowed police to initiate street encounters that briefly detain and investigate persons suspected of wrongdoing, there are certain Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment parameters to the practice that the New York Police Department (NYPD) violated. Specifically, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin held that the NYPD's version of stop and frisks - generally permitted by the Supreme Court in the 1968 opinion of Terry v. Ohio - unconstitutionally targeted New Yorkers of color because of their race and without reasonable suspicion.
Rather than engage the legal analysis, right-wing media are instead defending the NYPD by downplaying or ignoring its current unconstitutionality and arguing its justification lies in its purported efficacy at reducing crime rates.
On August 13, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham appeared on Fox & Friends to dismiss the constitutional concerns over an "inconvenience" as "ludicrous" and accused the federal judge of "substitut[ing] her own view of the world, her own utopian view of how the world should be for the way the real life is, for the people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York." The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal reiterated this concern for New Yorkers, particularly those of color, by lamenting "if the judge's ruling isn't overturned, the victims won't be in the tony precincts of liberal New York. They will be in the barrios and housing projects where stop-and-frisk has helped to protect the most vulnerable citizens, who are usually minorities."
Fox News host Sean Hannity highlighted the alleged disproportionate criminality of African-American men in his sympathy for future victims at risk from a change in NYPD policy, arguing on his August 13 radio show "it's not racial profiling, or indirect racial profiling." He continued, "[the disparity in stops and frisks] mirrored the disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men, that's what [the NYPD] said." Bill O'Reilly bluntly warned on the August 13 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, "if they do away with this program, that would be a disaster."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board's Stephen Moore falsely claimed that the drastic budget cuts known as sequestration have had "none of the anticipated negative consequences," when in reality economists have explained that the cuts have had devastating effects on economic growth, jobs, and programs for low-income Americans.
In an August 11 op-ed, Moore called the automatic budget cuts enacted March 1 -- which were designed to be so severe they would force Congress to adopt a more balanced approach to spending reduction -- an "underappreciated success" because they had resulted in "amazing progress" in reducing the deficit. Moore applauded the further deficit reduction that would come from "any normal acceleration of economic growth," and concluded by claiming that cuts to "military, education, transportation and other discretionary programs have also been an underappreciated success, with none of the anticipated negative consequences."
But economists were predicting major economic consequences, as The American Prospect noted on March 6:
Private forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers estimates "sequestration would cost roughly 700,000 jobs (including reductions in armed forces)," while Moody's Analytics predicts a hit to real gross domestic product of 0.5 percent, just a hair below Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's prediction 0.6 percent fiscal drag.
And as predicted, the cuts are harming the economy. Sequestration is having a negative effect on GDP growth and causing job losses. According to a new analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, canceling the sequestration cuts would raise GDP by 0.7 percent and increase employment by 900,000 new jobs by 2014, and would lead to greater output and higher employment in the next few years.
Furthermore, tens of thousands of individuals have already seen federal unemployment benefits cut by as much as 10.7 percent, Meals On Wheels programs have had to cut hundreds of meals from their regular service to low-income seniors, and Head Start programs have had to cancel sessions for at-risk children. According to the Department of Education, sequestration further cut $60 million from federal funding for schools that educate children who live on Indian reservations, military bases, or in low-income housing. In some cases, districts will be forced to close schools and reduce the number of courses offered.
Economist Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Biden, has tracked and documented the drastic effects that the cuts are having on everything from Medicare-funded cancer treatments and public safety, to scientific and medical research. Finally, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced on August 6 that furloughs to civilian defense workers caused by sequestration have created "a military whose readiness remains seriously degraded."
A Wall Street Journal editorial defended the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) over its role in the creation of pro-gun Stand Your Ground laws, without noting that the Journal's parent company, News Corp., has reportedly been a member of ALEC since 2010.
The August 7 Journal editorial claimed efforts to fight "stand your ground" legislation were part of a "campaign to suppress political speech," and attacked Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) for questioning whether supporters of ALEC -- a conservative organization backed by corporate giants that tailors model bills for state legislatures -- also supported the controversial legislation:
The campaign to suppress political speech has found its next tactic, using outrage over Trayvon Martin's killing in Florida as a hammer. On Wednesday, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin sent a letter to corporate and nonprofit supporters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, asking them to disclose their positions on stand-your-ground legislation that ALEC supported in Florida in 2005.
ALEC is a group of state legislators from around the country that promotes center-right reform ideas, mostly on economic issues. It has had success spreading those ideas, which has made it a target of liberal activists trying to cut off its funding.
Enter Mr. Durbin. "Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC's adoption of model 'stand your ground' legislation in 2005 and the present day," Mr. Durbin writes in the letter to groups and companies that have donated to ALEC.
Since support for ALEC doesn't "necessarily mean" that it endorses every position taken by the organization, Mr. Durbin continues, he is "seeking clarification" on whether companies that have "funded ALEC's operations in the past currently support ALEC and the model 'stand your ground' legislation." Oh, and by the way, the letter concludes, he intends to make the responses public at a Congressional hearing in September.
Nowhere in the editorial is it disclosed that the Wall Street Journal's parent company, News Corp., was reported to be a member of ALEC in 2012, a disclosure problem that has occurred before. The Center for Media and Democracy reported in May 2012 that:
Documents obtained and released by Common Cause show that News Corp. was a member of ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as of April 2010. Adam Peshek, who staffs ALEC's Education Task Force, told Education Week that News Corp. has been a member of both ALEC's Education Task Force and Communications and Technology Task Force since January 2012.
The Journal also misleadingly downplayed ALEC's efforts to spread Florida's Stand Your Ground law throughout the country, only noting that the organization "supported [the legislation] in Florida in 2005." But ALEC adopted a virtually identical law as part of the model legislation it then pushed through state legislatures throughout the country with the assistance of the NRA.
The Wall Street Journal's news section has repeatedly parroted the Republican narrative on border security without pointing out that enforcement, not only along the border but in most areas of immigration law, is greater than ever. This uncritical coverage has allowed congressional Republicans to set the terms of the debate on immigration reform even though the Journal's editorial page has charged that these "border security first" arguments amount to obstructionism.
In an August 4 article highlighting an immigration reform proposal that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly working on, the Journal gave weight to Goodlatte's statement that "[n]o illegal immigrant would gain legal status before efforts were in place to secure the border with Mexico," and Rep. Cory Gardner's (R-CO) argument that "he didn't want to consider" a plan that included a path to citizenship "until the issue of border security had been resolved."
The article did not explain the facts of border enforcement, much less point out that the Republican narrative on the matter "has become a ruse to kill reform." That's the way the Journal described "the real story" behind Republicans "once again demanding more enforcement as the price of their support" in a June 19 editorial titled, "The Border Security Ruse."
In a May 2 editorial that offered a "border security reality check," the Journal mocked the "porous border" argument and noted that "[c]ontrary to Republican claims that President Obama has turned a blind eye to illegal aliens, the official data indicate the opposite." It continued:
One lesson is that we can continue to militarize the border, but at some point it becomes overkill. The Republicans who claim we must "secure the border first" ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn't border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.
The editorial went on to cite relevant data to show that fewer immigrants will come illegally if you "[g]ive people more legal ways to enter and exit America."
A July 9 editorial asking whether the GOP would prove to be a "party of opportunity or closed borders," added: "Too often Americans hear the shrillest anti-immigration Republicans whose only argument is 'secure the border,' as if that is a sensible policy for the 21st century. House Speaker John Boehner's job is to make sure those voices don't carry the day."
The Wall Street Journal claimed that because private investment typically precedes infrastructure projects, President Obama's call for increased infrastructure investments is misguided. This position, however, ignores the historically positive effect of public investment on private activity and the nation's current need for infrastructure improvements.
In a series of recent speeches on the economy, President Obama has repeatedly called for increased infrastructure investment, claiming "[it] is a key ingredient to a thriving economy." In his July 30 speech in Chattanooga, TN, the president proposed combining a corporate tax rate cut with "new spending on infrastructure projects like roads and bridges."
Reacting to the president's push for increased infrastructure spending in The Wall Street Journal, University of Dayton history professor Larry Schweikart and Hillsdale College history professor Burton Folsom claimed that Obama is ignoring the history of infrastructure in the United States.
According to the authors, the president's position amounts to, "Create the infrastructure, in other words, and the jobs will come," which does not comport with historical evidence. The authors cite a number of examples -- the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the transcontinental railroad, and the Erie Canal -- all of which they use as evidence that private demand spurs the need for investment and not the other way around:
In all of these examples, building infrastructure was never the engine of growth, but rather a lagging indicator of growth that had already occurred in the private sector. And when the infrastructure was built, it was often best done privately, at least until the market grew so large as to demand a wider public role, as with the need for an interstate-highway system in the mid 1950s.
While it may be true that infrastructure typically follows private sector growth, this myopic view on the nexus between private and public investment completely ignores that infrastructure spending can further bolster private activity.
In fact, the authors' example of interstate highway development demonstrates how public investment can support private interests. According to a multitude of studies conducted by M. Ishaq Nadiri and Theofanis Mamuneas for the Federal Highway Administration, public investment in highways consistently results in positive gains for private industry, including productivity growth and general economic development. Indeed, in an overview of studies on the effect of public infrastructure investments on the U.S. economy, economists Alfredo Marvao Pereira and Jorge M. Andraz find that public investment complements private activity, with core infrastructure investments delivering the greatest returns.
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens falsely claimed the embassy closures in the Middle East and Africa proved that President Obama had wrongly characterized the current threat of terror in his May speech on national security, when in fact the president specifically referred to threats from al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and the Middle East against diplomatic facilities.
Following the announcement that 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa would remain closed throughout the week with hundreds of additional security forces deployed to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen due to suspected terror threats, conservative media rushed to politicize the effort to protect American lives, dismissing security experts who praised the decision and falsely accusing President Obama of failing to recognize the realities of the war on terror.
Stephens furthered these attacks in his August 5 Journal column, claiming that the embassy closures revealed "a threat that makes a comprehensive and vivid mockery of everything the president said" in Obama's speech at the National Defense University on May 23. According to Stephens, the purpose of the president's national security speech was "to declare the war on terror won--or won well-enough--and go home," and the "facts and analysis" Obama used to discuss the nature of al Qaeda were proven "wrong" by the current situation in Yemen and the Middle East.
But Stephens ignored whole portions of Obama's speech in which he identified the very types of threats the intelligence community is working to avert. Obama's speech specifically referred to al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa -- including Yemen, Libya, and Syria -- as "the most active in plotting against our homeland" and acknowledged they posed "threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad" (emphasis added):
Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They've not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.
Instead, what we've seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda's affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula -- AQAP -- the most active in plotting against our homeland. And while none of AQAP's efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.
Unrest in the Arab world has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. But here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we continue to confront state-sponsored networks like Hezbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Other of these groups are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. And that means we'll face more localized threats like what we saw in Benghazi, or the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives -- perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks -- launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.
So that's the current threat -- lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.
Stephens concluded by attacking the media's "memory" of the speech, claiming the press had forgotten the realities of Obama's rhetoric in favor of praising the administration. But it's Stephens himself who seems to have forgotten whole sections of the speech that undermine his attack on the administration, which has worked to protect American lives by effectively responding to a type of terror it identified as many as four months ago.
Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that helped force states and localities with a history of discrimination to have the Justice Department preclear proposed changes to voting regulations. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon, described the decision as "a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
Today marks the 48th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing that act into law.
Conservatives are apt to defend gutting the law by arguing that our country has made significant strides in racial equality over the past 48 years. That being the case, one would hope that segregationists' arguments against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would have been relegated to the dust bin of history, rather than in use by conservatives today to defend discriminatory policies.
Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric used to attack the law and defend the Supreme Court's decision remains rooted in the segregationist defenses of Jim Crow. Regardless of the motives, the use of similar rhetoric shows a lack of historic perspective.
Keith Finley, a professor of history at Southern Louisiana University and author of Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Right, has detailed many of the arguments made by Senators from the old South as they fought the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the floor of the chamber.
One such tactic was to accuse civil rights activists of aggravating racial tensions. According to Finley, Virginia Senator Henry Byrd, an opponent of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, claimed Lyndon Johnson would only increase racial tensions by "inflaming so-called civil rights issues" if he pursued the legislation.
Forty-eight years later, that defense remains a go-to of civil rights antagonists.
Two weeks ago, Fox host Bill O'Reilly told his the audience that civil rights leaders want "to divide the country along racial lines because that's good for business." While O'Reilly was specifically referring to reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict among civil rights leaders, similar sentiment has been expressed throughout the right in defense of the court's decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.
When Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would use available tools to continue enforcing the Voting Rights Act, Fox's Eric Bolling accused the nation's first black attorney general of "thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court so he can widen the race divide in America." Nina Easton, a Fortune columnist, said on Fox's Special Report that Holder's move was part of an "ongoing electoral strategy by this administration to gin up the black and Latino vote."
The fight to defeat the Voting Rights Act in 1965 also hinged on pivoting away from the central issue of voting rights to the canard of defending the process. According to Finley, Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender claimed race had nothing to do with his opposition to the Voting Rights Act. Instead, Ellender argued that he was simply maintaining the integrity of the electoral process: "the task of making it clear that one is not against voting rights, but only in favor of maintaining voting qualifications, is not always an easy one."
The same tactic is alive and well nearly five decades later and is made frequently by those advocating for strict voter ID laws, which experts say will disenfranchise minority voters.
When Mother Jones' David Corn published the internal deliberations of Groundswell, a right-wing listserve, one of the debates he highlighted centered on the issue of voter ID laws:
A high-priority cause for Groundswellers is voter identification efforts--what progressives would call voter suppression--and when Groundswellers developed a thread on their Google group page exploring the best way to pitch the right's voter identification endeavors as a major voting rights case was pending in the Supreme Court, the coalition's friendly journalists joined right in. Dan Bongino, the ex-Secret Service agent and 2012 Senate candidate, kicked off the discussion: "We need to reframe this. This narrative of the Left has already taken hold in MD. The words 'Voter ID' are already lost & equated with racism. Maybe a 'free and fair elections initiative' with a heavy emphasis on avoiding ANY voter disenfranchisement combined with an identification requirement which includes a broader range of documents."
In response, Tapscott suggested, "How about 'Election Integrity'?" And Gaffney weighed in: "I like it." Fitton noted that Judicial Watch had an "Election Integrity Project." Boyle proposed, "Fair and equal elections," explaining, "Terms 'fair' and 'equal' connect with most people. It's why the left uses them." Then came True the Vote's Anita MonCrief: "We do a lot under the Election Integrity Banner. Does not resonate with the people. Voter Rights may be better. We really have been trying to get the messaging right."
Hans von Spakovsky, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and leader in the conservative movement's war on voting, wrote in USA Today that voter ID laws were "to ensure the integrity of our election process."
Rush Limbaugh told his audience that Democrats only oppose voter ID laws "because that would have a very negative impact on cheating."
Finley points to Herman Talmadge, a Senator from Georgia, who claimed the 1965 Voting Right Act was unnecessary because the "[right to vote] is probably the most protected right we have." Echoes of Talmadge could be heard in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision this summer. The Wall Street Journal argued the Voting Right Act was "no longer necessary" due to "American racial progress."
Speaking about the Supreme Court's decision on Fox, network contributor Andrew Napolitano cheered the court's ruling, claiming the section stuck down "worked so well" that "the procedure is not necessary anymore."
Von Spakovsky claimed in 2011 there was "a complete lack of evidence that the type of systematic discrimination that led to [the 1965 Voting Rights Act's] initial passage still exists."
This 48th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act provides conservative media figures an opportunity to revisit the historical context of the language they use to confront issues of races, and begin to engage in a real conversation.