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A Word of Encouragement for IRS Commissioner John Koskinen

June 24th, 2014 - 6:38 am

It’s only recently that I became aware of  John Koskinen, who was sworn in as the 48th commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in December 2013. Mr. Koskinen is obviously a smart chap: BA magna cum laude in physics from Duke; member of Phi Beta Kappa; a JD, cum laude, from Yale; and post-graduate work at Cambridge University. Watching snippets of his testimony before Congress on June 20th and June 23rd about the Case of the Missing Emails, however, I had to wonder whether, in all his years working for Freddie Mac and trying to salvage the Teamsters pension plan, he had ever managed to take on board Walter Scott’s famous couplet from “Marmion:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!

This was not Mr. Koskinen’s first time testifying, under oath, before Congress about the ever-broadening IRS scandal. Back in March, Mr. Koskinen faced a demand that the IRS produce “every single email [sent by Lois 'I-take-the 5th' Lerner] in the time period in the subpoena.”

“Will you commit to provide all those emails?”

“Yes, we will do that,” answered Koskinen.

Words are funny things, though.  What do you suppose the congressman meant by “all” and “every single email”?

If you’re just an ordinary Joe or Jill, the sort of schlump folks like John Koskinen and Lois Lerner are used to pushing around, you might have thought that Congressman Jim Jordan, who made the demand, wanted the IRS to turn over, you know, all of Lois Lerner’s emails from the period under review, that is, he wanted the IRS to produce every single email from the specified period.

Are we clear about that? (In case you think the request was ambiguous, look at this footage.)

On March 26, Mr. Koskinen said (I paraphrase), “Sure, boss, no problem: you want all the emails of la Lerner, I promise to get you all the dame’s emails.”

That was March 26th. On that date, according to Mr. Koskinen’s sworn testimony, he had no idea that he didn’t have access to all of Lois Lerner’s emails because, gosh darn, her hard drive failed and, wouldn’t you know it, they had no backup and, what’s more,  Lerner’s hard drive had been “recycled.”

So he couldn’t produce all the emails because (as far as we know right now) many of the emails are lost. The IRS, Mr. Koskinen testified, knew about the lost emails in February, but no one told him, the commissioner of the agency, this interesting fact until April.

It’s nice that it was April, because had it been anytime before March 26, a skeptical observer might conclude that John Koskinen had been economical with the truth when he testified before Congress on March 26th and promised to hand over all the emails.

Just as the IRS forgot or neglected — at least, they said, according to Mr. Koskinen, that they forgot or neglect — to tell him that 2 years’ worth of emails had gone missing, so Mr. Koskinen forgot or neglected to tell Congress about this most interesting fact when (according to him) he found out about it in April. Exactly when in April?  He can’t remember. Who told him?  He can’t remember that either. After all, the IRS has 90,000 employees (think about that!) and, after all, it was filing season. He was busy.

What do you think about that gambit? Convinced?

Or how about this: the IRS, which requires individuals to keep records for 7 years, only keeps emails for 6 months. Mr. Koskinen also testified that they cap the number of emails they save at 6,000. Why? Because their servers are overloaded. The head of the IRS said that it would cost between $10 and $30 million to upgraded their servers to accommodate a full backup.

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“Never apologize, never explain”: The IRS brazens it out

There are plenty of circumstances in which that pithy imperative —variously attributed to Disraeli, Queen VIctoria, and sundry other worthies — wins my admiration. “Never apologize, never explain”: I like the blunt, no-nonsense aroma it exudes, the hinted-at announcement that there will be no wallowing in unproductive self-recriminations or manufactured displays of contrition. There is a reason, I think, that the motto seems traceable to Victorian times: an era when manly forthrightness still had a prominent place in the economy of public life.

But context is everything. It is one thing to say “Never apologize, never explain” as an adjunct or symptom of cultural self-confidence, quite another in an atmosphere of duplicity, evasion, or brazen contempt. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen presented a breathtaking example of the latter when he blithely admitted that the IRS had simply “recycled,” I.e., tossed out, physically destroyed, Lois Lerner’s malfunctioning hard drive that (he claimed) was unrecoverable. “I don’t think an apology is owed,” he told a stunned House Ways and Means Committee.

Of course he doesn’t. Why should the head of an increasingly politicized government agency apology for the mendacity and obstructive behavior of his subordinates? As Barack Obama promised his acolytes on the eve of the 2008 election, he was out to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” Remember that? One of the things he has managed to transform is the machinery of government. People have always been wary of agencies like the IRS, with their vast, often unappealable powers. But more and more people now fear and loathe them as instruments of political conformity and — it is not too strong a word — tyranny.

David Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, spoke for many when he told the Commissioner, “You can blame it on a technical glitch, but it is not a technical glitch to mislead the American people. You say that you have ‘lost’ the emails, but what you have lost is all credibility.”

More: 

Videos: The IRS Commissioner Doesn’t Really Care What You Think

Putting the ‘PC’ in Providence College

June 15th, 2014 - 10:40 am

The other day, I wrote about Harry Stein’s new comic novel Will Tripp: Pissed Off Attorney at Law. It’s an hilarious send-up of the rancid PC establishment that rules the roost at most American colleges and universities. It is, like David Lodge’s Small World or Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, intended as a species of satire. But as I noted in an update to that piece, the absurdist realities of contemporary academia make it very difficult to distinguish reliably between satire and the reality being satirized. Give it a try: Which of the following biographical sketches is satire, which is business as usual?

1. Feminist the First is an “American writer, academic and social activist. Influential in the self-esteem movement in the 1980s. Grabler has penned a number of best sellers, including I Am My Own Father, Mother and Best Friend, Narcissism is Not a Four-Letter Word, and The Romance of Self Adoration. . . . In her recent academic work, she has helped popularize the once widely derided idea that all living things, including single-cell organisms and crops, experience violence as pain. Author of Pain and Anguish, considered the definitive text on the subject, she holds the Phillip J. Donohue Chair for Advanced Oppression Studies at Chester College.”

2. Feminist the Second is being honored for “her many years of dedication to furthering the causes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) communities. Since 1965, when she picketed the White House for Gay rights, and published an article in Sexology Magazine, [her] writings have inspired and fueled second wave feminism, women’s spirituality movements and lesbian activism. . . . Selected works include but are not limited to: A Simple Revolution, Edward the Dyke and Other Poems, Another Mother Tongue, Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World, and Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling.”

Stumped? Really, you should read Harry’s novel to find out, but I won’t keep you in suspense. The author of The Romance of Self-Adoration is true-to-life but fictional while the “spiritualist” who wrote Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World is the real, so-to-speak, McCoy: Professor Judy Grahn, Ph.D. in “Integral Studies, California Institute of Integral Studies,” and “Executive Core Faculty Member” at Sofia University in (but of course) California. (It gets better: Professor Grahn’s dissertation, I learned from the web site, is called Are Goddesses Metaformic Constructs? An Application Of Metaformic Theory To Menarche Celebrations And Goddess Rituals Of Kerala And Contiguous States In South India.)

I revisit this doleful subject by way of prelude to another installment in one of the longest running frauds on the American spirit and pocketbook ever devised, the institution of liberal arts education in its contemproary deformation. As regular readers know, this is a subject I have written about frequently, in these columns, in The New Criterion, and in my books Tenured Radicals and The Rape of the Masters. Like Macbeth, I have “supped full with horrors.”

There are always new and more outlandish Judy Grahns, of course, and they are reliable sources of pitiable comedy. But in a way what’s more alarming than the lunatic fringes of academia are the supposedly sunlit uplands, those institutions, second- and third-tier as well as the Ivies and their Williams-Middlebury-Wesleyan sort of competition, that we’ve entrusted with passing the baton of civilization to the next generation.

I thought about this yesterday when a friend sent me some correspondence he’d had with Providence College, a second-tier liberal arts college in Providence, Rhode Island, that is run by the Dominicans, the order of St. Thomas Aquinas.  My friend’s daughter had recently graduated from PC. She profited from her time there and even found her vocation as a Dominican nun there.

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Writing yesterday about the IRS’s amazing loss of more than two years of Lois Lerner’s emails (“Where’d they go? They were here just a minute ago!”), I wondered in passing how the Extended White House Public Relations Office, e.g., the New York Times, MSNBC, et al. would handle the news. The Nixon White House, you’ll recall, found quite a lot of the morning’s scrambled on its collective countenance when 18 and 1/2 minutes of audio tape somehow—somehow!—went missing as the Watergate scandal unfolded around the president. 

What a godsend to the guardians of our “Right to Know” Watergate was! Day after day, week after week, month after month, the front pages and editorial pages of our former Paper of Record were full of stern admonitions about that egregious abuse of executive power. You could not look at the paper without a synesthetic shudder: Reading it, you could almost hear them licking their chops as their prey—the dastardly Richard Nixon—came ever closer to his doom.

So how does the New York Times handle this extraordinary loss of two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s emails?  (“Really, they were here just a minute ago. We were just about to hand them over to Congress when, gosh darn, they just vanished.  Damndest thing.”)

This will amaze you, I know, but it is true: the New York Times  today devotes zero words to the story. Take a look at the front page here:  Nothing. There are a couple of articles about Iraq’s descent into chaos—Iraq, the country whose transformation Joe Biden, in 2010, called one of the “greatest achievements” of the Obama administration. “I’ve been there 17 times now,” the vice president told Larry King.  “I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.” But I digress . . .

What else do we have on the front page?  Warnings about a connection between obesity and liver disease. Something about the tea party in the aftermath of David Brat’s upset victory in Virginia and a story about restauranteurs upset by apps bypassing maitre d’s in securing good tables at posh eateries. The public has a right to know these things. There is also advance word about a coming article about the entertainer “Beyoncé the Boundless” (they teach alliteration in J school), the soccer games in Brazil, and sundry other topics.

What about the missing emails?  Nary a word on the front page. Or the next page. Or the next or the next.  The editorial page has a stern piece about “The Soros Cycle of Endless Cash”—oh, wait, no, it’s not about the left-wing billionaire George Soros. My mistake. What he does with his money is his business. It’s about—can you guess?—yes! The Koch brothers, the men the Times just loves to hate. But about the missing emails in one of the most disgusting political scandals in recent times, the deployment of the IRS with its virtually unlimited powers, against political opponents of the administration? Nothing. Nada. Rien.

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So the IRS suffered a catastrophic hard disk failure and — lo and behold! – two years of Lois Lerner’s emails have vanished: poof! Just like that. Imagine. Evidence of those happy days targeting conservative groups, gone. So much for the memoir. Eliana Johnson reports that Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is really steamed. He has even asked the Justice Department to look into it.  “The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to congressional inquiries,” he said in a statement. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.”

Still laughing? Yes, that would be Eric Holder’s Justice Department.  Don’t hold your breath, Mr. Camp.

Now, I actually might be able to help the IRS.  When we lost a hard disk at my office with lots of archival material, we were pretty glum.  But there are scads of data recovery companies whose entire business revolves around getting data off damaged hard disks. (“Recovering data from damaged hard disks” turned up 31,200,000 results in .36 seconds on the Google search I just performed.) I’m sure there are many such companies within a stone’s throw of the IRS.  And here’s an offer: I’ll gladly pay personally to have the data recovered. Really. It’s only $1000 bucks, $2000 tops, and I’d pay a lot more than that to know what was in those emails. Wouldn’t you?

But here’s the thing.  After we lost that hard disk, we wised up and started backing up.  We have redundant backups in our office and offsite back ups as well.  And we’re a tiny company with no IT department. The IRS commands the resources of the federal government and as much of your money as it chooses to glom on to. Is it credible that they have no backups of two years’ worth of emails of a senior staff person—a senior staff person who just happens to be at the center of a huge scandal?  What do you think?

I have a couple of other questions. 1. How will the New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, and the rest of the extended White House public relations team cover this story?  Will they cover it?  And 2. What will it take to rouse the public from its supine attitude of hapless acquiescence to this administration’s increasingly brazen lawlessness? I almost tire of reciting the litany, but here it is, part of it, once again, on the next page:

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Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law

June 13th, 2014 - 5:27 am

Now that we have the “disinvitation season” behind us, that spring frolic in which our pampered institutions of higher education indulge in a little bacchanal of politically correct frenzy, inviting only to disinvite commencement speakers who have said or done something, anything, that does not pass muster with this week’s Commissar of Correctness—now, I say, that we’re well into June and the feminists, transexuals, racialists, eco-gender lesbian vegan anti-capitalists, and all the other assorted exotic fauna that congregate in and around the academy have decamped to restore their tissues and dream of victims yet to come, it is time for a little respite from that stultifying hothouse of intolerance.  I can think of few more delightful antidotes to that lank, joy-killing species of snarling self-indulgence than Harry Stein’s new novel Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law. 

Meet Counselor Tripp. He’s a proud dwarf who was paying his way through law school by means of his athletic prowess, sort of. He made good money being tossed by the inebriated patrons of a local bar until some do-gooding crusader took time away from battling against second-hand smoke and carbon emissions to intervene to Save the Dwarfs and got the sport of dwarf tossing declared illegal. Will’s new employment as he struggled through law school was inspecting sewers.

It was while padding down the local cloaca maxima that Will’s settled dislike of politically correct busybodies hardened into a gem-like and hilarious contempt. I won’t give away the plot of this clever divertissement, except to say that the story takes place on a college campus near you and involves a deliciously repulsive feminist charlatan—you know her, too—and various emasculated specimens of homo academicus. 

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The wisdom of Joe Biden, Iraq edition.

June 12th, 2014 - 2:45 pm

In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden went on the Larry King Show to say that he believed Iraq would be regarded as one of Barack Obama’s “greatest achievements.” Not only would we see 90,000 American troops “come marching home,” but because of Barack Obama’s Smart Diplomacy™, we would also see a vast improvement in the political situation in Iraq. The Vice President had this to say: By the end of the summer, he predicted, 

You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative  government. . . .
I’ve been there 17 times now. . . . I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.

So how’s that working out, Joe? This morning, The Telegraph headlined the news: “Exodus of US troops from Iraq as chaos spreads.” The story begins, “A sense of crisis is gripping Baghdad as radical jihadists make ground at rapid speed across northern Iraq on the roads towards the capital.” The Daily Beast has cognate news, “Iraq’s Terrorists Are Becoming a Full-Blown Army.” The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (Isis) is busy imposing Sharia law on the populace even as America and other countries scramble to evacuate their troops and nationals living in Iraq. The Pentagon reports that some American military equipment may have fallen into the hands of the radicals. Chaos. Bloodshed. The rise of Islamic barbarism. I don’t know that I would describe Iraq as one of the Obama administration’s “greatest” achievements, exactly. It is certainly one of its most characteristic.
*****
UPDATE:  a friend writes to suggest the appropriate illustration for Obama’s “greatest achievement”:
image001

 

 

Catholics & Capitalism

June 12th, 2014 - 7:21 am

David Hume used to extol “the calm sunshine of the mind.” It radiates a gratifyingly clear and uplifting nimbus, that cognitive luminosity, all the more precious on account of its rarity. My friend Kevin Williamson has been a conspicuous source of such refreshing clarity, and his essay “Catholics Against Capitalism” at NRO is a work of particular scintillation. 

The occasion for Kevin’s piece was the meeting in Washington, D.C., last week of some Catholic intellectuals and clergy under the leadership of the Honduran cardinal, His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga. The title of the conference was “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism,” though as Kevin points out, the real object of criticism was not libertarianism particularly but free market economics generally. And as Kevin also points out, the Church has no special grace to pronounce authoritatively on such secular matters and, in the case of its reflections on matters economic, “the best that can be said of the clergy’s corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence.”

Kevin’s longish essay is worth reading carefully, for it is full of wisdom and is expressed with patient brio. The basic position of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga is the familiar leftist litany: “Capitalism” is bad because it creates great wealth, while it also “destroys wealth, value and jobs. Those ‘wondrous technologies’ also manifest as wrathful deities, efficiently eliminating or reducing the need for labor.” (Kevin quotes from a truly obtuse review of Conscious Capitalism, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s book,  in Tricycle). “The implicit economic hypothesis here,” Kevin points out, “is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently — in this case, with less labor — makes the world worse off. . . . The reality is the opposite, and that is not a matter of opinion, perspective, or ideology — it is a material reality, the denial of which is the intellectual equivalent of insisting on a geocentric or turtles-all-the-way-down model of the universe.”

Here’s the bottom line: Capitalism is the greatest engine for the production of wealth the ingenuity of man has ever invented. Are you interested in helping the poor? Embrace capitalism. Do you want to help clean up the environment? Embrace capitalism. Are you interested in obliterating the scourge of malnutrition or some ghastly African disease or illiteracy or [fill in your personal do-good desideratum here]: yep, embrace capitalism. The global poverty rate, Kevin reminds us, has been cut in half  in the last 20 years. Think about that. Then think about the sorrowful history of our species up to about 1830.  How much progress against widespread — really, near total — poverty had there been from the beginning of time until then — until, that is, capitalism started to take off? Not much.

Like Barack Obama (indeed, like Karl Marx), Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga believes that the fundamental problem of economics concerns the redistribution of wealth. In fact, the fundamental economic problem concerns the production of wealth, the more, the better. “The question of how certain goods are “distributed” in society,” Kevin observes,  “is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute.”

Exactly. But this is a truth that, for reasons I do not fully comprehend, the Left finds it impossible to take on board. Kevin gets to the nub of the issue with gratifying incisiveness:

Those who put distribution at the top of their list of priorities both make the error of assuming the existence of some exogenous agency that oversees distribution (that being the Distribution Fairy) and entirely ignore the vital question of what gets produced and by whom. Poverty is the direct by-product of low levels of production; the United States and Singapore are fat and happy with $53,101 and $64,584 in per capita economic output, respectively; Zimbabwe, which endured the services of a government very much interested in the redistribution of capital, gets to divide up $788 per person per year, meaning that under circumstances of perfect mathematical equality life would still be miserable for everybody. Sweden can carve up its per capita pie however it likes, but it’s still going to be 22.5 percent smaller than the U.S. pie and less than two-thirds the size of Singapore’s tasty pastry. You cannot redistribute what you don’t have — and that holds true not only for countries but, finally, for the planet and the species, which of course is what globalization is all about. That men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad. Cure one or two people of blindness and you’re a saint; prevent blindness in millions and you’re Monsanto.

“You cannot redistribute what you don’t have,” and in order to acquire more stuff to distribute you need to embrace that fantastic engine of prosperity, capitalism.

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Eric Cantor and the Conventional Wisdom

June 11th, 2014 - 4:45 am

There are two words that recur like a drumbeat in the news stories about David Brat’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia primary last night.  One is “historic.” The second is some variant of “stunning” (“staggering,” “shocking,” etc.).  John Fund does us the courtesy of deploying both: “Eric Cantor’s loss is historic,” he writes at National Review. “No sitting House majority leader has lost an election since the office was created in 1899. While Cantor’s loss was a stunning surprise, the warning signals were around for a while.” He then supplies a list of explanations that seemed obvious only after David Brat won. Yesterday afternoon, the wise men of the commentariat would have dismissed them with a self-assured thoroughness and consistency that is truly marvelous to behold.  

“Historic” and “stunning.”  That is, the triumph of the tea-party-backed economics professor was both 1) important and 2) unexpected.

It was unexpected because (for example) Cantor outraised Brat by $5.7 million to $231,000.  Cantor was the establishment candidate. He has (how long before that “s” becomes a “d”?) a national profile. Brat is . . .  (pause for Wikipedia check) an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College,  an obscure institution in Ashland, Virginia.

Frankly, though, what surprises me about such events as David Brat’s victory is the surprise they occasion. Nigel Farage and the other anti-EU politicians weren’t supposed to trounce the established parties in the European elections a couple of weeks ago. Members of the established parties and the human remora that attend them told us so. But Farage, Le Pen, and the rest trounced them across Europe.  This, said Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, was “a shock, an earthquake that all responsible leaders must respond to.”

Right.  And how’s that working out?  From where I sit, the response of “responsible leaders,” i.e., representatives of the conventional wisdom, has been mostly confined to what they used to call in the Wild West a circling of the wagons. Demonize the bastards. Ostracize ’em.  Talk incessantly about “fringe candidates” and “extremists”  who cannot win (except they just did), who will upset the status quo, which by an extraordinary coincidence just happens to benefit those registering their “shock,” their having been “stunned,” “staggered,” not to say “utterly dismayed.”

Both parties have been assiduous in demonizing the tea party.  And they’ve been quite effective in convincing themselves that it was yesterday’s news, that the upsets of 2010 were an anomaly, that business-as-usual (represented by us mature politicians who are already in office) had once again achieved the upper hand. Order, in short, had been restored.

Except that unexpected things like David Brat’s victory, like UKIP’s victory in the European election, keep happening.

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‘Unique and Exigent Circumstances’

June 2nd, 2014 - 8:33 am

Although the Framers didn’t get around to the executive branch until Article II — the real business of government, they thought, would normally be carried out by Congress —  the Constitution nevertheless vests awesome, but not unlimited, power in what James Madison called the “chief Magistrate,” the president of the United States.  This is right and proper, for the president, as commander-in-chief, needs the flexibility to be able to respond quickly and decisively in case of national emergency.  

Appealing to that necessity is what stands behind the Obama administration’s objection to the federal law requiring that the president give Congress 30 days notice before releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. There were, the administration argued, “unique and exigent circumstances” why that law should not be followed in the case of Bowe Robert Bergdahl, the Army solider who is reported to have deserted his post while on guard duty in June 2009 after announcing his loathing for America and hatred of the Army. “I am ashamed to be an American,” he wrote in an email to his parents.  “And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools. . . . The horror that is America is disgusting.”

It would be interesting to have Sgt. Bergdahl’s views on “the horror that is America” now that he has had an opportunity to spend five years as the guest of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It would also be interesting to know exactly what “unique and exigent circumstances” prompted the Obama administration to exchange Sgt. Bergdahl for five high-level Taliban terrorists — the hardest of the hard core, as John McCain put it — who were cooling their heels in Gitmo. (What do you suppose these thugs and murderers will do now that they’re free? Go sight-seeing?)

At least six U.S. servicemen were killed searching for Sgt. Bergdahl. And Rep. Howard McKeon and Sen. James Inhofe are surely correct that the exchange imperils the lives of others. “Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans,” they said in a joint statement. “That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”

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