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The Summer of Scandalgate!!!
Of the current triumvirate of turmoil, only one of these stories will survive the great Summer of Scandalgate, and live on to effect election season ‘14.
Blue and Red jerseys have been donned for Benghazi - it looks a lot like he said, she said to apolitical innocent bystanders. The events in Benghazi were indeed tragic; and there are certainly valid issues worthy of delving into policy-wise - but Republicans have opted for optics over substance in their solicitations. They are not able to even explain what the supposed cover-up was intended to... cover...up.
A tug-of-war over talking points between CIA and State? A golden opportunity for the executive to play the role of commander-in-chief just prior to an election? Neither explanation makes any sense at all.
The current incarnation of Benghazi into the news-cycle was borne out of lazy and false reporting (by ABC) as actual quotes, blatantly fabricated notes - from a conveniently anonymous Republican source.
Keep it moving along; nothing to see here, folks.
Criminalizing Investigative Journalism
The AP and James Rosen (so far) stories have caused a collective bunch-of-the-panties amongst the news media. It’s perfect - an outraged media get to report on their own media outrage (now that's job security, they must be union...).
But for once the media are on to something; as a free media capable of exposing the most inexcusable of wrongs wrought on our behalf here and abroad - is essential to the very essence of self-governance.
However, mainstream media has little-to-no currency in this matter - as they have utterly failed in their duty to report on the millions of warrant-less wire-taps, cell phone data requests, & emails monitored - of everyday American citizens since 9/11. Now that the surveillance-state directly affects them - the media are suddenly up-in-arms.
Conservatives will gleefully condemn Obama for... well, for breathing. But they too have little-if-any credence here, as they were pounding their fists and demanding investigation into these very White House leaks just last summer - and now they suddenly feign outrage? Besides, haven't Obama and the media have been in bed together for the past six years - how does this controversy now jive with such an accepted storyline among conservatives?
The weight of this story (as with the others) will of course be determined by who knew what and when? If it turns out that there was direct White House involvement, then we could have problems.
Holder certainly has some 'splaining to do for his subpoena of Rosen. Receiving classified information is no crime. DOJ took the appropriate legal route by contacting Fox first (Fox claims that they somehow never got the registered mail, among other modes of communication), but for some reason Holder seemed to perjure himself on the matter. There should be an independent investigation - beyond the Obama-requested Holder report on Holder - Holder's hold on his job may be tenuous.
It also must be noted that Rosen's reporting disclosed the classified information that we in fact have an inside man in North Korea - and Rosen's reporting did nothing to improve public knowledge, it was completely self-serving.
Inevitably though, and whether or not he was directly involved - this story only adds to President Obama's abysmal record of leaning on whistle-blowers. From record espionage act abuse, to Bradley Manning, John Kiriakou, & Julian Assange - this White House has continually and brutally attacked whistle-blowers.
The AP shenanigans went down because Obama could not root out his White House leak - the move was specifically meant to bully White House sources out of contacting their journalist amigos. (However, no self-respecting leaker would ever use a traceable phone to call a contact, let alone a contact at a community phone line.)
The Whitewater “scandal” in the 1990’s helped to enshrine plausible deniability & shielding of the executive - after Watergate taught us the lesson that the executive has no business interfering with an ongoing investigation. And it must be said, that when the wont of media and gov't collide in these regards - the media should take precedent for the health an informed people.
Disconcertingly, while the media will continue to hyperventilate and conservatives will squeeze it for all the fund-raising it‘s worth; the average American doesn't even want to know the ingredients in the hotdogs they shove in their faces - let alone about the give and take between press-freedom & national security.
Unfortunately, the Patriot Act surveillance-state now seems to be a bipartisan platform policy.
While this scandal is certainly he most disturbing and consequential, Obama and Holder will not be running for any office. This story unfortunately fades in favor of our final contestant, which will be omnipresent in 2014 campaign ads.
Tax Man Cometh!
“IRS”, “Tea Party”, “scandal”.
Those three words sum up all you really need to know for the next year-and-a-half. Unfortunately, our media is incapable of adjudicating a discerning discussion sans false-equivalency & hyperbolic gesticulating.
It’s so simple - you don‘t need to know anything about politics to relate with disdain for the IRS. If the IRS does their job perfectly well and to the letter of the law - they are still the bad guy. They represent big government digging into my pockets - into every single paycheck. Anyone who’s ever had an experience has, by very definition, had a bad experience with the IRS.
No politician has ever done harm to themself by dumping on the IRS. Death & Taxes!
To be clear though, Congress is punching up at the IRS - with Congressional approval ratings under half of that of the IRS (36 to 16). But man, did they screw the pooch on this one.
In a statement, the IRS admitted that “mistakes were made” in targeting 75 conservative groups (out of 298 total) for extra scrutiny, with names including "tea party", "patriot", or "9/12".
President Obama called the purported behavior "outrageous" and "contrary to our traditions."
House Speaker John Boehner - "who's going to jail"?
Marco Rubio - “I strongly urge that you (Treasury Secretary Jack Lew) and President Obama demand the IRS Commissioner’s resignation, effectively immediately.”
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman (Bush appointee) resigned at the end of his six years, last November. Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller has now resigned under pressure. Lori Lerner, head of the Determinations Unit in question - has been placed under paid administrative leave.
Lerner was appointed by Shulman in 2010, and she seems to be the single person capable of shedding the most light on what actually went down in the Cincinnati office, as she learned of the goings on in June 2011. On Jan, 25, 2012 and seemingly at Lerner's behest - the criteria for flagging groups was changed to, "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement." Plainly including groups of all leanings, left or right.
Unfortunately, Congressional cupidity forced Lerner into pleading the 5th - by way of preemptive calls for her jailing by the very members set to investigate her before their committees. And forced by the DOJ, given their investigation into her actions. Idiots. Do they prefer hyperbole and conjecture over revelation of facts?
We now know that the treasury secretary and the White House chief of staff had knowledge of the investigation, but we do not know who (beyond Lerner) knew about the disgusting policy of viewpoint discrimination as it was being practiced.
Sarah Hall Ingram went from commissioner of the Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division, to director of the agency’s Affordable Care Act Office (though no evidence has been yet submitted that her involvement in possibly border-line scandalous activities was then known).
Also in question is: how blatantly did Miller and Lerner utilize truthiness and outright misinformation in Congressional testimonies?
Shulman to Congress in March 2012 - "There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people..."
And what did actually happen?
Congressional hearings will hopefully clear the details up - but in the meantime it looks like a mishmash of inconsistent management, concerning both the IRS' own rules and revolving department heads. Throw in increased workloads and unclear legal standards (which allow the National Football League to claim tax-exempt status) - and we've got a cluster on our hands, folks.
Importantly, no conservative groups were denied tax-exempt status. Only liberals (Emerge America) were actually denied. The IG report was initiated by conservative complaints, and singularly and specifically investigated conservative viewpoint targeting. However, the IG report determined that only a quarter of the 298 flagged groups were targeted by conservative namesake. (Perhaps liberals do not so much view an IRS questionnaire as big government harassment/suppression.) Many groups were delayed, but they are still able to legally operate as tax-exempt entities.
In fact, it is not even necessary to even apply for 501(c) status - it is as simple as claiming said status unilaterally. Truth is, only mom & pop groups generally apply, likely because do not have lawyers competent enough to inform them of the discombobulated rules. Crossroads and Karl Rove certainly wasn’t caught up in all of this. Neither was Bill Burton and Priorities.
Be very clear in this; regular American taxpayers are subsidizing the political activities of these special-interest groups. These groups could easily claim 527 status and remain tax-exempt, they reason they claim 501(c)4 is so that they can withhold the names of their donors. None of them deserve tax-exempt the status, or the opacity, they are being afforded. That is truly scandalous.
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Since the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913 (and reinforced numerous times through the courts) the IRS has been authorized to, and tasked with the responsibility of, examining our tax information.
In the 1950’s under Eisenhower, 501(c) social-welfare groups were defined by Congress as “not for profit” and engaging “exclusively” in nonpolitical activities. Later, the IRS chose to redefine the legal term exclusively, as meaning primarily - thus setting in motion this current cluster. The Citizens United ruling then opened the floodgates to corporate dark monies into elections.
Previously, there was a single bureaucrat responsible for all 501(c)4 applications. Given Citizens United, applications have doubled to nearly 3500. According to data collected by OpenSecrets.org, 501(c)4 groups spent $92 million in the 2010 election, up from $254 million in the 2012 election.
Consider this, if you operate a business out of your home - you are likely to be audited. If you collect tips with your wages - you are likely to be audited. If your earnings are from rental properties - you are likely to be audited. If you claim large charitable deductions - you are likely to be audited.
If you are a church (All Saints Episcopal) who opposed the Iraq War in 2005 - you are likely to be audited. If you are the NAACP in 2004 - you are likely to be audited (along with a two-year investigation, admittedly for anti-war comments by former Chairman Julian Bond). If you are Greenpeace in 2006, and Exxon wants you targeted - you are likely to be audited.
An audit is a far more a comprehensive and invasive process than sending out questionnaires. Liberal groups Emerge America, Progress Texas, Clean Elections Texas were sent the same questionnaire as the conservative groups in question. One conservative group that has complained of being targeted are the Ohio Liberty Coalition, which distributed Romney campaign material.
Again, none of these groups deserve tax-exempt status, as they do not fit the legal definition of a social-welfare non-profit as outlined by Congress. They especially do not deserve (c)4 status - which allows them to conceal their donors.
Under 18 U.S.C. 1001, it is criminal to make false statements to the IRS. By claiming to be primarily non-political, many of these groups may in fact be the ones running afoul of the law.
In conclusion - our people are educated in poor schools, and pay more attention to Jodi Arias than civil liberties and press-freedom. Our media is incapable of thoughtful arbitration - they act as a dog torn between chasing after random automobiles and their own collective tail.
Benghazi was a tragic occurrence, which some are viewing as a preemptive weapon against a certain presumed presidential candidate for 2016.
The Rosen scandal seems an example of executive overreach.
The IRS story will live on simply because the whole idea of government is under attack by the far-right. It will be ubiquitous in political adds for years to come.
"My opponent supports big government liberalism. Is it fair for liberal bureaucrats to use big government as a cudgel against America-loving conservative tax-payers?"
The Heritage Foundation has sent a letter to GOP leadership imploring them to drop all legislation (most importantly the Farm Bill) and concentrate on the Summer of Scandalgate.
In 1997-'98, conservative zeal to scandalize a democratic president created the first election since the 1820s in which the incumbent presidential party picked up seats in the second term mid-term. Will right-wingers overplay their hand and recreate Ken Starr & Monica Lewinsky?
One can only hope.