Weekly Musing 5-19-13
‘Is this still America?’
Texas Republican Congressman Kevin Brady asks IRS’s Miller.
This Is No Ordinary Scandal Political abuse of the IRS threatens the basic integrity of our government.
We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they’re seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration’s credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don’t look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone.
Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.
Disturbing abuses of power
The Justice Department, meanwhile, is in an even deeper hole.
Who can take seriously the department’s mission, as stated by its Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, “to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people”?
Media outlets covering D.C. affairs should also be concerned. Journalists who draw on confidential sources while aggressively covering the city’s corruption scandal may now wonder if U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen is going after their phone records. After all, it was Machen’s office that served the subpoenas in the AP case.
COINTELPRO? No. Unchecked government power? Yes.
So many people are sad about America and cynical about its government. They don’t expect anything good to happen. They think certain poisons have entered the system and nothing can be done about it. Leviathan will not be cut back or tamed, Leviathan will go on abusing the citizen. People are all too willing to believe the Internal Revenue Service is hopelessly political in its judgments and actions. They are not shocked. They don’t think anything can be done, that the system cannot be corrected. They just grip the arms of the seat and wait for the weather to get worse.
But cynicism aids and abets deterioration. You’ve got to stay shocked. It’s disrespectful not to.
There is such a thing as national morale. Ours could use a boost. People have grown cynical. They expect nothing good to happen. They expect it all to be swept under the rug. They expect no one to pay a price. It is a matter of profound public need that the U.S. government show and prove that it is capable of correcting itself, that Leviathan can stop itself.
IRS Official in Charge During Tea Party Targeting Now Runs Health Care Office
The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.
Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.
Her successor, Joseph Grant, is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012. During at least part of that time, Grant served as deputy commissioner of the tax-exempt unit.
‘Is this still America?’ Congressional hearing turns into IRS smackdown as disgraced former commissioner and Treasury Inspector General face tea-party scandal questions
Texas Republican congressman Kevin Brady had the harshest criticism for Miller.
‘Is this still America?’ he asked him.
‘Is this government so drunk on power that it would turn its full force, its full might, to harass, and intimidate, and threaten an average American who only wants her voice, their voices heard?’
‘The American public deserves better,’ Miller agreed. But both he and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration, insisted that no IRS employees engaged in political witch-hunting.
White House should try the Truth: Redacted truth, subjunctive outrage
Note to GOP re Benghazi: Stop calling it Watergate, Iran-contra, bigger than both, etc. First, it might well be, but we don’t know. History will judge. Second, overhyping will only diminish the importance of the scandal if it doesn’t meet presidency-breaking standards. Third, focusing on the political effects simply plays into the hands of Democrats desperately claiming that this is nothing but partisan politics.
Let the facts speak for themselves. They are damning enough…
This could be the first case in presidential history of subjunctive outrage. (It turned into ostensibly real outrage upon later release of the Inspector Generalreport.) Add that to the conditional truths — ever changing, ever fading — of Benghazi, and you have a major credibility crisis.
Note to the White House: Try the truth. It’s easier to memorize.
Benghazi: What Difference, At This Point, Does It Make? A lot.
The most transparent administration in history doesn’t like to tell us all that much.
And so it is with Benghazi. When the government said it was a spontaneous reaction to unfettered online speech, the media, by and large, believed what officials said. Now the president would like us to believe it’s all just a sideshow, even as important questions remain unanswered. And the most transparent administration in history becomes just a little more transparently not so.
Scandals Engulf Obama Administration: White House Denies Knowledge, Responsibility
Early last week, the President of the United States exhorted Ohio State graduates to “reject” the “cynical” voices of those who warn against government abuse and tyranny. He imparted that advice on May 5. Less than two weeks later, his administration is aflame with scandal. Feeding the conflagration is evidence of the executive branch exploiting the levers of government to bully its political opponents and secretly monitor the free press. These revelations are uniquely suited to stir precisely the sorts of concerns the president attempted to belittle and marginalize in Columbus. At the risk of engaging in cynicism, let’s examine the latest developments in all four concurrent scandals:
IRS, Benghazi, AP: The Problems Pile Up for Obama
“Americans should take notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don’t have to answer to anyone,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked to comment on Justice’s clandestine data-gathering from the largest global wire service, referred questions to the department.
In IRS scandal, echoes of Watergate
“He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavored to . . . cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.”
— Article II, Section 1, Articles of Impeachment against Richard M. Nixon, adopted by the House Judiciary Committee, July 29, 1974
Episodes like this separate the meritorious liberals from the meretricious. The day after the IRS story broke, The Post led the paper with it, and, with an institutional memory of Watergate, published a blistering editorial demanding an Obama apology. The New York Times consigned the story to page 10 (its front-page lead was the umpteenth story about the end of the world being nigh because of global warming). Through Monday, the Times had expressed no editorial thoughts about the IRS. The Times’s Monday headline on the matter was: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” So that is the danger.
Benghazi, IRS: Son of Watergate?
The Post’s editorial board writes, “A bedrock principle of U.S. democracy is that the coercive powers of government are never used for partisan purpose.” The board called for a full accounting. I doubt we’ll get it. Take Benghazi.
ABC News first reported that the now famous Benghazi “talking points” used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday morning news shows were revised 12 times, deleting references to “the al-Qaida-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia (and) CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.”
Democrats now accuse Republicans of partisanship, claiming their motive is to damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects. If she has nothing to hide, transparency should enhance, not harm, her chances. We’ve learned more about Benghazi since her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January and she should be asked to account for it.
With the IRS Scandal Ablaze, How Does that Special-Prosecutor Thing Work?
If the attorney general suspects criminal wrongdoing within the federal government, he or she can assign a special counsel to lead the investigation. The appointment does not need congressional approval, just notification to the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. The special counsel can be dismissed by the attorney general in extraordinary circumstances, however.
The attorney general can either pick a current U.S. attorney or a lawyer from outside the Justice Department; the person must have “a reputation for integrity and impartial decision making, and with appropriate experience to ensure both that the investigation will be conducted ably, expeditiously, and thoroughly, and that investigative and prosecutorial decisions will be supported by an informed understanding of the criminal law and Department of Justice policies,” according to Justice Department guidelines.
When U.S. attorneys are selected to fulfill the functions of a special counsel, such as Patrick Fitzgerald during the Valerie Plame affair, he or she follows many of the same guidelines as outside counsel, with few exceptions with respect to his or her authority.
Once the special counsel is appointed by the attorney general, the person operates under the full authority of the Justice Department and follow its guidelines. Because this is an executive-branch function, Congress cannot appoint a special counsel. Instead, Congress can hold its own investigation through different committees.
Why the GOP thinks it could blow it
“We have to be persistent but patient,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told us. “I think where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If we present ourselves to the American people as intelligent, we’re going to be in a great place as far as showing that this administration is not transparent, is obsessed with power, and hates dissent. But you don’t call for impeachment until you have evidence.”
It is important to remember that there is no evidence any of the specific controversies directly link to President Obama himself. No one knows what the various congressional probes will turn up, but until there is a direct connection to the president, the best Republicans can probably do is use the three episodes to illustrate what they see as the dangerous reach — and pervasive incompetence — of the Obama government.
Deflect & Divert Strategy: Keystone Politics Follow Obama On Baltimore Jobs Tour
“More offense today. We are employing a two part strategy: 1) address each controversy head on, and 2) Pivot from the politics to the substance. On Wednesday, we released the Benghazi talking points emails. Yesterday, we pivoted to substance with POTUS push of new embassy security plan — call the Republicans’ bluff on the politics and push them to our turf on substance. They are at their weakest when pushing political, partisan fights. We are at our strongest when advocating policy that will solve problems people care about. Next case in point: POTUS trip today to Baltimore to talk pre-K and manufacturing. POTUS also moved to appoint career OMB official Danny Werfel — a strong, bipartisan choice — as interim head of IRS. Former Bush boss Josh Bolten gave him props calling Werfel ‘consummately professional, well organized and effective.'”
…and then in other news…
Obamacare: HEALTHCARE AFFORDABILITY ACT TO INCREASE RATES BY UP TO 400%
Internal cost estimates from 17 of the nation’s largest insurance companies indicate that health insurance premiums will grow an average of 100 percent under Obamacare, and that some will soar more than 400 percent, crushing the administration’s goal of affordability.
New regulations, policies, taxes, fees and mandates are the reason for the unexpected “rate shock,” according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which released a report Monday based on internal documents provided by the insurance companies. The 17 companies include Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kaiser Foundation.
The report concluded what many of us have known since before the bill was passed.
”Despite promises that the law will lower costs, [Obamacare] will in fact cause the premiums of many Americans to spike substantially. The broken promises are numerous, and the empirical data reveal that many Americans, from recent college graduates to older adults, will not be able to afford the law’s higher costs.”
Identity, family, marriage: our core conservative values have been betrayed
As the Conservatives strive to heal the divisions in their party it must surely have occurred to them to wonder what the word “conservative”
really means, and why it has had, for so many British people over the past 200 years, such a positive resonance. The important lesson of the local elections is not that the party is losing appeal for marginal groups and floating voters – to whom it never appeals for long in any case. The important lesson is that the party has jeopardised the allegiance of its core constituents, those who willingly describe themselves as conservatives, and live according to the unspoken norms of a shared way of life.
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