Do ‘experts’ have any value?

By Christopher Harper

If you turn back the clock six months to the end of May, the “experts” predicted gloom and doom for the U.S. economy.

The key piece of information was the yield gap between three-month and 10-year Treasury bonds reach a low of minus 13 basis points. According to the “experts,” the gap forecast a recession.

Almost every talking head chirped on every cable outlet: Recession, recession, recession.

Fast forward to the current economic mood: Unemployment to record low levels. Jobs up. Consumer confidence up. Productivity up.

The disconnect between the facts and the “experts” even had The Wall Street Journal wondering: What would we do without experts?

The report noted that the “experts” had failed to predict that employers added 266,000 jobs in November—the fastest pace since 312,000 in January—and the jobless rate dipped to 3.5%, matching September as the lowest level since 1969. Wages also advanced 3.1% from a year earlier.

The “experts” were nonplussed. Even DaTimes acknowledged that many of the “experts” got it wrong.

“The mainstream view of the economics profession — held by leaders of the Federal Reserve, the Congressional Budget Office, private forecasters, and many in academia — was that the United States economy was at, or close to, full employment.”

The “experts” got it wrong by a full one percent, arguing that 4.7 was as good as it could get. The workforce prediction was off by more than one million people.

Fortunately, consumers and small business owners haven’t followed the advice of the “experts.”

Americans’ view of the economic outlook improved significantly in December, according to a University of Michigan consumer-sentiment survey. The University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment rose to a December reading of 99.2 from a final November reading of 96.8. Economists had expected a December reading of 96.9.

I guess we can add economists to the list of experts who can’t be trusted. That list already includes political analysts, sports commentators, and climate-change advocates.

One final note: We lost a true expert when Paul Volcker died this week. As chairman of the Federal Reserve under Carter and Reagan, he was responsible for bringing the country out of a deep recession and for stopping rampant inflation.

A Greek getaway and Trump

By Christopher Harper

At a lecture at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, I sketched out why Donald Trump won in 2016 and was likely to do so again in 2020.

The group—mostly students and professors—get much of their information from the American and Greek media. Therefore, much of what they read and hear is wrong.

At the outset, I explained that I came from flyover country, the backbone of Trump’s support. The West and East coasts may dominate the entertainment and media industries, but the places in between determine who becomes president.

Second, I pointed out how poorly the American media had performed in 2016, failing to recognize that Trump’s support was stronger than they thought, and Clinton’s following was much weaker. As a result, the media are likely to get the 2020 campaign wrong, too, and should not be a significant source of information for those who want to know what’s happening in the election. Also, I examined how bad Clinton was as a candidate and how out of touch the Democrat candidates were this year.

Third, I outlined what I believe is central to Trump’s foreign policy. To Trump, economics is central to his policies. For example, he sees illegal immigration as creating economic issues from employment to government costs, including health care and schools.

Immigration is a topic that hits home for Greeks, who have faced a growing problem of their own. In fact, the government has instituted a crackdown on immigration over the past few weeks because of the growing cost of illegal immigrants.

One Greek journalist asked me about Trump’s tweets, arguing that they undermined his credibility. Not so, I replied. His tweets send his opponents reeling while his supporters find them funny. His constant social media presence allows Trump to go over the heads of the media and his detractors—much the same way Ronald Reagan used television.

I don’t know how many of the 40 or so people I convinced that Trump would be reelected. But at least I had the opportunity to provide them with an unfiltered view of what I saw as the importance of Trump’s election.

At another stop during my Greek trip, I encountered two sisters—both in their seventies—from Houston. Both supported Trump without hesitation. It was a refreshing conversation—one I almost never have in Philadelphia, a bastion of Trump haters. It’s rather sad to have to travel 5,000 miles to find fellow travelers.

An immigration crackdown in Greece

By Christopher Harper

Having spent the past few days roaming around Greece, I find it amazing that the U.S. press hasn’t picked up on the crackdown on immigrants.

The Greek government has adopted a policy to “shut the door” on migrants not entitled to stay — a hardening of its stance amid a new surge in arrivals.

That would be from a country that often tilts toward the left side of the political spectrum.

Simply put, recent elections tossed out the old leader as citizens got tired of the immigration crisis in the country.

“Welcome in Greece are only those we choose,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Parliament. “Those who are not welcome will be returned. We will permanently shut the door to illegal human traffickers, to those who want to enter even though they are not entitled to asylum.”

Greece was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million people fleeing conflict in 2015-16.

In speaking with some local residents, citizens are unhappy that the refugees often have no desire to participate in the country’s social life, including keeping their children out of school. Few are trying to learn Greek.

“Greece has its strengths, but it is not an unfenced vineyard,” Mitsotakis said recently, using a Greek expression meaning the country is not open to anyone. “Those days are gone.”

Moreover, Mitsotakis’ government said it wants to move up to 20,000 asylum seekers out of sprawling island camps and onto the mainland by the end of the year and expects that new facilities will be ready by July 2020.

Medecins Sans Frontieres has raised concerns over the new centers, arguing that the new facilities would amount to detention centers. Human rights groups have also criticized a new framework for speeding up the processing of asylum requests as a “rushed” attempt that would impede access to a fair asylum process for refugees.

Separately, officials in neighboring North Macedonia said a police patrol detained a group of 33 migrants found walking through the southern part of the country, near its border with Greece. Police said the group consisted of 21 Afghan nationals, seven Pakistanis, three Iraqis, and two Iranians.

Although the Balkan route followed by migrants trying to reach Europe’s prosperous heartland has been closed since 2016, thousands still use it. They usually pay large sums to smuggling gangs to illegally get them through the closed borders.

Sound familiar?

Bribery and the Constitution

By Christopher Harper

Bribery?

That’s the latest means the Democrats have tried to get rid of Donald Trump.

But there’s a Democrat congressman, Alcee Hastings, who might make a useful addition to the witness list because he’s only one of three federal officials who’s been charged with bribery under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Hastings, who is one of the longest-serving representatives in Congress, was elected in Florida in 1992. In fact, he almost got elected in 2006 as head of the House Intelligence Committee now holding the impeachment hearings.

But here’s what Hastings doesn’t want everyone to remember.

In 1981, Hastings was charged with accepting a $150,000 bribe in exchange for a lenient sentence against two defendants when he was a federal judge in Florida. He also was accused of perjury in his testimony about the case. 

In 1983, Hastings was acquitted by a jury after his co-conspirator refused to testify in court. 

In 1988, the Democrat-controlled House took up the case, and Hastings was impeached for bribery and perjury a vote of 413–3. He was then convicted on October 20, 1989, by the U.S. Senate on eight articles of impeachment. 

His co-conspirator, attorney William Borders, went to jail again for refusing to testify in the impeachment proceedings but was later given a full pardon by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled in Nixon v. United States that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over Senate impeachment matters, so Hastings’s conviction and removal were upheld.

Hastings’s impeachment and removal had to do with an out-and-out bribe. No similar comparison can be made with the current investigation of Trump.

Nancy Pelosi and some Obama lawyers are trying to peddle the notion that the founding fathers had some other definition of bribery, but I’ve been unable to find the distinctions in my research of sources on the Constitution.

The past precedents for bribery under the impeachment clause, particularly that of Democrat Hastings, were clear cut examples of taking money for doing something that was illegal. 

Hastings would make an excellent example of what bribery really is under the U.S. Constitution!

Lessons from Watergate

By Christopher Harper

As a young reporter, I covered part of the Watergate story, including the offices of Howard Baker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee that investigated President Nixon and his administration.

What I remember most of all was the bipartisan nature and transparency of the hearings in the Senate and the later those in the House—a stark difference to what’s happening now.

On February 7, 1973, the U.S. Senate voted 77-to-0 to approve a resolution to establish the select committee to investigate Watergate, with Democrat Sam Ervin named chairman the next day.

The hearings held by the Senate committee were broadcast from May 17 to August 7, 1973. The three major networks of the time agreed to take turns covering the hearings live. An estimated 85 percent of Americans with television sets tuned in to at least one portion of the hearings.

Baker and Ervin, both Southern lawyers, shared the spotlight, with little pretense of partisan politics. Baker became well known for his question of Nixon aides: What did he (Nixon) know, and when did he know it?

As established under the Constitution, the House needed to consider the issues for impeachment. Here, too, the representatives put aside most partisan antics.

On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410-4 to authorize the Judiciary Committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president. During the debate over this measure, Chairman Peter Rodino, a Democrat said, “Whatever the result, whatever we learn or conclude, let us now proceed with such care and decency and thoroughness and honor that the vast majority of the American people, and their children after them, will say: This was the right course. There was no other way.” House Republican leader John Rhodes said that Rodino’s vow was “good with me.”

Nevertheless, the House committee was not as transparent as the Senate investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee opened its formal impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974. The first twenty minutes were televised on the major U.S. networks, after which the committee switched to closed sessions for the next two months. Altogether, there were only seven days of public hearings.

When the committee finally voted on articles of impeachment, the tallies included bipartisan support, with roughly one-third of the Republicans and all of the Democrats supporting the three articles that were passed.

Furthermore, a group of prominent GOP legislators convinced Nixon he should resign.

At almost every step of Watergate, Democrats and GOP may have disagreed. Ultimately, however, they sought the truth in a bipartisan and relatively transparent way.

That’s an important lesson the Democrats should consider.

The Wall and its lessons

By Christopher Harper

From the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Cold War shaped most baby boomers.

Like me, almost every boomer spent some time under classroom desks in a rather idiotic drill during and after the Cuban missile crisis. Somehow being under a desk would save us!

The Vietnam War also was a reaction to the Cold War—an attempt to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. Obviously, it didn’t work.

I had the opportunity to spend time behind the Iron Curtain both before and after the fall of Communism.

What struck me most about Soviet domination before 1989 was how difficult the lives of people in Eastern Europe were under Communism.

It was difficult to find food, proper medicine, and hope.

I recall twisting my ankle in Poland. I struggled into the hospital and noticed how the shelves were empty, and the equipment was aging. The doctor told me the ankle wasn’t broken, and he didn’t have much to help me with the pain. Fortunately, a nurse found an elastic bandage to help me hobble around for the next few days.

In Bulgaria, the hotel offered lobster on the menu. One of my colleagues decided to order some. The waitress didn’t speak much English, so she came out with a shellfish that was encrusted in ice because it was caught years ago. The message, however, was clear. Perhaps my friend should order something else.

For years, my wife and I had wanted to visit what was then called Czechoslovakia. Because I was a journalist, I was unable to get a visa even though I only wanted to be a tourist. The government did not allow American journalists to visit for any reason. Fortunately, we were able to visit the Czech Republic after the end of the Soviet empire.

Although Eastern Europe has had its share of difficulties after the end of communism, the streets are brighter, the hopes are higher, and the freedoms are greater.

The lesson that every American should take away from the fall of the wall is how much better life is in Eastern Europe. All you have to do is look at the economies of Poland, Hungary, and other countries that lived behind the wall and under the boot of Soviet oppression.

Moreover, it’s critical to realize that socialist doctrines, such as government control of essential industries, never worked in the Soviet Union and its empire and won’t help the United States in the years ahead.

Forty years later: the media and the Iran hostage crisis

Forty years ago this week, I traveled to Iran to cover the takeover of the U.S. embassy, an event that embarrassed the United States and the administration of Jimmy Carter.

What isn’t debated on this anniversary is how badly I and the rest of the news media reported what happened.

First, the hostage-takers weren’t “students,” the moniker that still sticks today. A.J. Caschetta, a lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, provides some interesting background.

For example, author Tim Wells interviewed most of the hostages for his oral history, 444 Days: The Hostages Remember (1985). Few called their captors “students,” using various terms: Iraniansradicalsmilitantsterroristsgoonsguardsknuckleheads, turkeys, and assholes.

One of the key leaders of the hostage-takers was Hossein Sheikholeslam, who convened press conferences for the legions of international journalists that flocked to Tehran. But he hadn’t been a student since the early 1970s when he attended the University of California at Berkeley. His proficiency in English also made him suitable to interrogate the hostages. Sheikholeslam “may have been trained in interrogation techniques,” wrote William Daugherty, one of only four CIA officers stationed at the embassy on November 4.

Another ringleader, Mohammad Hashemi, wasn’t a student. He spent his time with friends forming a group called “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line,” which gave orders to those who showed up to protest outside the U.S. embassy. They wore laminated photos of Khomeini around their necks and pinned to their jackets.

The hostage-takers “strictly allied with Khomeini and the new mullah establishment,” according to Mark Bowden in Guests of the Ayatollah (2006). As Bowden puts it, they “were all committed to a formal Islamic state and were allied, some of them by family, with the clerical power structure around Khomeini.”

Second, the news media didn’t understand how big the story would become. The foreign editor of Newsweek, where I worked, told me the takeover wouldn’t last more than a day or so. It went on for 444 days!

Newsweek didn’t put the story on the cover until three weeks after the takeover occurred and then only as a part of an overall analysis of the burning of the U.S. embassy in Libya, the Russian influence in the Afghanistan government, and Islamists taking over Mecca.

The U.S. television networks were so unprepared that only one ABC News radio reporter had a valid visa to get into Iran. As a result, ABC had exclusive coverage for several days, laying the groundwork for “America Held Hostage” and then Nightline.

Third, many journalists thought the religious government of Iran had to be better than the Shah. How wrong we were!

I will now say an act of contrition. I hope other reporters do the same. 

The First Amendment under attack

The First Amendment should undergo significant changes, including jail time for hate speech and false news reports.

These findings come from a recent poll and analysis by the Campaign for Free Speech. See https://www.campaignforfreespeech.org/free-speech-under-dire-threat-polling-finds/

The organization found that 51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and should be rewritten. 

The poll found that 48% believe “hate speech” should be illegal. (“Hate speech” is not defined but left up to the individual participant.) Of those, about half think the punishment for “hate speech” should include possible jail time, while the rest think it should just be a ticket and a fine. More millennials and Gen-Xers think hate speech should be made illegal—as do women, blacks, and Hispanics. The various regions in the United States think roughly the same.

The fundamental problem with regulating hate speech is who defines it? The courts have generally shied away from restricting hate speech because of that issue. The most important U.S. Supreme Court case that could be applied is Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, a 1942 decision in which the court put forth the “fighting words” restriction on speech.

Chaplinsky was arrested for provocative statements made in the town square. While being transported to the local police station, he called the town marshal “a damned fascist and a racketeer.”

Justice Frank Murphy defined fighting words: “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting, or ‘fighting’ words, those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

But some legal scholars think the lower courts have defined fighting words in an inconsistent way, while others think the decision remains a threat to free speech.

Whatever the case, an arrest for using fighting words is a rarity. One happened a few years ago here in Philly when a local teacher got in a cop’s face and threatened him and his family.

An estimated 57% think that the government should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false. Only 35% disagree with the statement, with the rest undecided. Men and women poll about the same—as do various sections of the country. The only slight difference is that millennials rise to a level of 61%.

Surprisingly, in my view, the poll found that many think the government should impose jail time for those who publish fake news. A total of 56% said that journalists should only face a fine, but the other 46% said that actual jail time should be imposed on the offenders.

The implications of the poll seem obvious, but the ramifications not so much.

The poll does underline the antipathy of the public toward the media, and it comes from all age groups, geographic regions, income brackets, and races.

The media would be well served if they did not ignore the bitterness toward news organizations from just about every group.

The bitterness of losers

Two of history’s most pathetic losers made the news this past weekend, mainly because of their bizarre antics.

Hillary Clinton decided to call out presidential wannabe Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian agent.

Seriously? This attack comes from someone who has managed to cover up all of her wrongdoings from Benghazi to Whitewater.

The evidence is scant, mainly an ill-informed visit to Syria and a meeting with its butcher president.

The apparent reason for Clinton’s attack goes back to 2016 when Gabbard backed Bernie Sanders and the notion that Gabbard might run as a third-party candidate—something she has vowed not to do.

In her bitterness campaign after the election, Clinton blamed a third-party candidate for her loss to Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, another loser, Mitt Romney, has jumped on the impeachment bandwagon.

In 2016, Romney denounced Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud,” and warned of the “trickle-down racism” that would accompany his election. After he won, Trump briefly considered tapping Romney as his secretary of state but decided not to do so. And in the years that have followed, the tension between the two men has gotten worse.

In an incredibly pathetic display, Romney apparently opened a Twitter account under a pseudonym: Pierre Delecto.

If Trump pulled either of these stunts, the Democrats would be adding another article to their impeachment campaign.

If two losers aren’t enough, it appears that Michael Bloomberg may be considering joining the Democrat clown show because he’s worried about Elizabeth Warren winning the nomination.

That means that Bloomberg, the old white guy who’s richer than Trump, would be 79 by the time he entered the White House in 2021.

I guess it’s not difficult to understand why this trio want to remain in the limelight, but it’s time for someone to tell each of them how bitter and silly they look.

Fake news and me

One of my daughter’s colleagues recently asked me if I worked as a journalist.

“No,” I replied. “Neither am I a mass murderer.”

It wasn’t exactly like Peter denying Christ three times. But I am no longer proud of the job I did for more than 20 years and have taught students to do for nearly 25 years.

Although I have had a variety of difficulties with the mainstream media in recent years, I hadn’t jumped completely on the fake news bandwagon until the Ukrainian phone call and impeachment. The media in American have become so shrill–a partisan press without a purpose other than to attack Trump. That doesn’t apply to all reporters and editors, but I think it applies to a significant number, particularly among the media elite.

As a result, journalism has fallen on hard times in the eyes of the public. It’s been a long time since journalists have been held in high esteem, but many people looked to the news media to provide some insight into the issues of the day.

Every morning, I start my day by reading several websites, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. I’ll usually check CNN and Fox News and may listen to the radio talk shows for 30 minutes or so.

I don’t read many opinion pieces because I find the analysis wanting, particularly from DaTimes and DaPost. It seems like all they want to do launch a new screed against Donald Trump.

Over the past decade or so, I have been advocating a change in how news organizations go about their business. The old standards of fairness, balance, objectivity, and a few others have been long gone from what I see.

In my view, the tenets should emphasize accuracy, transparency, and professionalism.

Transparency is one that sticks in the craw of most journalists. I want their political views, campaign contributions, past history of advocacy, and even tax records available to readers and viewers—much of which reporters and editors ask of politicians.

Michael Schudson, the noted analyst of journalism, wrote recently in The Columbia Journalism Review, that the issues transcend the current battle between the press and Trump.

“[T]he old days of ritually objective news reporting (he said/she said) are not gone but have been reduced in importance from the 1970s on, as mainstream outlets have increasingly emphasized analysis in news coverage—not quite so much ‘who, what, when, where’ as ‘why.’ There has been a profound cultural shift in journalism during this period. The limitations of straitjacketed objectivity came to be understood and journalism began to embrace the necessity of interpretation, as both quantitative studies and journalists’ recollections attest,” Schudson wrote.

“News organizations should have to explain themselves—to communicate the difference between the news department and the editorial page (more than a quarter of Americans do not understand the distinction); to show how they gather their news; to clarify why they sometimes cannot divulge their sources,” he added.

I hope journalists will listen to Schudson because I have failed in my mission to convince my former and current colleagues.

Whatever the case, I am no longer proud to call myself a journalist. I don’t think I am alone.