Trump’s Not The First To Try To Control the Drip Drip Drip

leaks

Media are joining in on the hysteria about the Trump Administration’s efforts to control federal government communications.

“Federal agencies are clamping down on public information and social media in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, limiting employees’ ability to issue news releases, tweet, make policy pronouncements or otherwise communicate with the outside world, according to memos and sources from multiple agencies,” Politico reported today, Jan. 25.

Willamette Week jumped on the bandwagon today as well, telling readers, “Send us tips, oppressed comrades!”

“Got information that would make a great story, but worried about revealing who you are? (Because you work for, say, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump?) WW has two new ways to send tips without disclosing your identity,” WW said.

“It’s a dark time right now,” because of Trump Administration restrictions on the use of social media and other channels by government employees, a former Obama administration spokeswoman told Politico. “From what we can tell, the cloud of Mordor is descending across the federal service,” added Jeff Ruch, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Before everybody goes off the deep end on all this, assuming it’s something new under the sun with the evil Trump, let’s step back a bit.

Every administration in recent memory has tried mightily to control the flow of information it doesn’t want disclosed from its agencies, with varying degrees of success.

In 1962, President Kennedy approved the wiretapping of a New York Times reporter and then set in motion Project Mockingbird, illegal CIA domestic surveillance on American reporters.

Richard Nixon fought leaks to the media with a vengeance. After an initial honeymoon with the media, he later distrusted them and fought them tooth and nail, believing coverage of him was deeply biased. And, frankly, it was. As Politico’s John Aloysius Farrell wrote in 2014, “Just because he was paranoid doesn’t mean the media wasn’t out to get him.”

A recent report commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists blasted the Obama administration for being overly aggressive in controlling government communications with the media, too, saying its information disclosure policies had a“…chilling effect on accountability.”

“The war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” said Leonard Downie, a former Washington Post executive who authored the study.

David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, said in the report: “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”

The report told of how the Obama administration used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute leakers and created the “Insider Threat Program” requiring government employees to help prevent leaks to the media by monitoring their colleagues’ behavior.

The report also described how the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed and seized all the records for 20 Associated Press telephone lines and switchboards for two months of 2012, after an AP investigation into a covert CIA operation in Yemen.

“Put all these together and it paints a pretty damning picture of an administration that talks about openness and transparency but isn’t willing to engage with the media around these issues,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

So before everybody goes ballistic, singling out Trump’s efforts to tightly manage public pronouncements and minimize leaks, consider that he’s part of a long line of presidents who have fought hard to do the same.

That’s just a fact. Depressing, isn’t it.

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Musings: cowardly snipers, Selma, the Oregon Cultural Trust and failing schools

Lot’s of random thoughts lately.

Cowardly snipers

That great progressive American patriot, Michael Moore, made another of his well-informed, well-reasoned comments the other day on his Twitter account. Speaking out about Clint Eastwood’s movie, “American Sniper”, Moore said, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”

Current and former American soldiers alive today because of the effectiveness of American snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan had no comment.

AmericanSniper1

Selma

The hyperventilating critics of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal in the movie, Selma, need to chill out.

Joseph Califano Jr., a top assistant to Johnson, said, for example, that the movie took “dramatic, trumped-up license” with the truth and “falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965

It’s a MOVIE, folks, not a documentary. And, by the way, where were all you historical accuracy nuts when the idolatrous TV and theater movies about John F. Kennedy omitted scenes of his sexual escapades and the hagiographies about his brother, Ted Kennedy, skipped over his responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne?

Oregon Cultural Trust

The billboard on Broadway urges donations to the Oregon Cultural Trust. “Donate/Match, get the whole match back,” the billboard says.

CulturalTrust-Billboard

The way the program works is you add up your donations for the year to one or more of the participating cultural nonprofits and then make a donation to the Cultural Trust in an equal amount. Your donation to the Cultural Trust will come back to you dollar for dollar at tax time when you claim your cultural tax credit.

In 2009, the Legislature stole $1.8 million from the Trust for Cultural Development account of the Oregon Cultural Trust to deal with state budget pressures. The Senate tried to defend itself by claiming it just took money from Oregon Cultural Trust license plates, not public donations.

Horsepucky! It was out-and-out theft.

So don’t trust ’em. If they were willing to break the public trust over a lousy $1.8 million, they’ll do it again. Don’t donate a dime to the Trust this year, or next. We both know the Legislature will raid it again someday.

Failing schools

In his Jan. 20 State of the Union address, President Obama said he wants the federal and state governments to cover 100 percent of the junior college tuition for students who meet minimal standards. Of course, the program wouldn’t really be free. Obama wants to raise taxes to pay for the fed’s share.

And the proposal ignores the fact that the biggest problem at community colleges isn’t the cost, but the dismal completion rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at 2-year degree-granting institutions, only 31 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a certificate or associate’s degree in fall 2009 attained it within three years. This graduation rate was just 20 percent at public 2-year institutions.

Portland Community College graduation

Portland Community College graduation

Part-time junior college students don’t do well either. Even when given four years to complete certificates and degrees, no more than a quarter make it to graduation day, according to a Complete College America report to the nation’s governors. The rest wander aimlessly through too many class choices, get committed to jobs, relationships mortgages and more and end up with nothing finished and backbreaking debt.

Of course, it’s not just the junior colleges that fail. Too many students arrive ill-prepared by their K-12 educations to succeed at higher education and channeled into remedial courses that don’t work.

Want to skip out on paying back all your student loans?

Now that you’re out of college, want to skip out on making those pesky student loan payments until all your debts are paid off? No problem.

Under a program that reverses John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, loan forgiveness is available under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program created by Congress in 2007. Under this law, signed by President George W. Bush, once people holding full-time public jobs have completed 120 payments on their federal direct loans, the remaining balance can be forgiven, with no cap.

No longer in vogue?

No longer in vogue?

The list of qualifying public sector jobs is longer than my arm.

That’s because qualifying employment is “any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization…”, including work for a qualifying not-for-profit employer  “if it provides certain public services, such as emergency management, military service, public safety, or law enforcement services; public health services; public education or public library services; school library and other school-based services; public interest law services; early childhood education; public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly.”

Good grief. Who isn’t qualified?

What supporters of loan forgiveness conveniently forget is that forgiving loans costs money, something that can’t be ignored when the the national debt exceeds $17 trillion.

Forgiving college loans also likely makes students less sensitive to tuition costs and schools more likely  to encourage students to borrow for increasing college costs national debt, rather than pushing schools to figure out how to become more affordable.

The rationale for the creation of the program was that people in public service jobs make less money than those in the private sector, so government needs to add perks to make public service jobs more appealing to the well-educated.

The problem is that government salaries are not all necessarily lower than those in the private sector for comparable jobs, people in the public sector tend to have more generous retirement benefits and attempting to drive educated people to public sector jobs may not be the best use of American talent. At its root, the loan forgiveness program assumes that public sector jobs are inherently more valuable to the country, justifying foisting the unpaid portion of student loans on the American taxpayer.

Another argument made for this loan forgiveness program is that it stimulates the economy because it puts more money in American’s pockets instead of in loan repayment.

A Freakonomics post made hash of that argument, noting:

  1. If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades.  The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts.
  2. If you want stimulus, you get more bang-for-your-buck if you give extra dollars to folks who are most likely to spend each dollar, like poor people.
  3. People who support this are a bunch of kids who don’t want to pay their loans back. And worse: Do this once, and what will happen in the next recession? More lobbying for free money…?
  4. Much of the rhetoric in support of loan forgiveness is,Give free money to us, rather than corporations, millionaires and billionaires.”  Why give money to college grads rather than the 15% of the population in poverty?

Finally, a good case can be made that we have too many people in the public sector and that the last thing we need to do is incentivize adding more.

Congress should abolish this loan forgiveness program, not expand it.