So the IRS is dysfunctional and underfunded:
Checks and balances once in place were taken away. Guidance frequently published by the IRS and closely read by tax lawyers and nonprofits disappeared. Even as political activity by social welfare nonprofits exploded in recent election cycles, repeated requests for the IRS to clarify exactly what was permitted for the secretly funded groups were met, at least publicly, with silence.
All this combined to create an isolated office in Cincinnati, plagued by what an inspector general this week described as “insufficient oversight,” of fewer than 200 low-level employees responsible for reviewing more than 60,000 nonprofit applications a year.
In the end, this contributed to what everyone from Republican lawmakers to the president says was a major mistake: The decision by the Ohio unit to flag for further review applications from groups with “Tea Party” and similar labels. This started around March 2010, with little pushback from Washington until the end of June 2011.
“It’s really no surprise that a number of these cases blew up on the IRS,” said Marcus Owens, who ran the Exempt Organizations division from 1990 to 2000. “They had eliminated the trip wires of 25 years.”
Of course, any number of structural fixes wouldn’t stop rogue employees with a partisan ax to grind. No one, including the IRS and the inspector general, has presented evidence that political bias was a factor, although congressional and FBI investigators are taking another look.
But what is already clear is that the IRS once had a system in place to review how applications were being handled and to flag potentially problematic ones. The IRS also used to show its hand publicly, by publishing educational articles for agents, issuing many more rulings, and openly flagging which kind of nonprofit applications would get a more thorough review.
All of those checks and balances disappeared in recent years, largely the unforeseen result of an IRS restructuring in 1998, former officials and tax lawyers say.
The AP story, as Chuck Todd averred this morning, isn’t important because “the American people” don’t care. Of course they don’t: the press has done an execrable job detailing how this administration has violated our freedoms. John Kiriakou and Bradley Manning are doing time. The administration would love to get its hands on The New York Times‘ David Sanger. Digby:
Contrary to what seems to be an emerging narrative about this AP scandal, it is simply not true that the AP and the government are equally culpable. In fact, if there is one person responsible for the detail about the informant getting out, it’s the man who now heads the CIA. And he let it slip during a “talking points” session with a bunch of national security TV commentators.
First, let me just say that the constitutional principle at stake in this AP scandal is so paramount that I’ve been loathe to even write about the details of the case. The idea that the government has the right to do sweeping fishing expedition subpoenas of the allegedly free press without their knowledge or any judicial oversight is mind boggling to me and regardless of the precedent in other cases, I’m simply appalled that any administration would do it. There are ample ways to go about dealing with issues that don’t chip away at the First and Fourth amendment. Unfortunately, this administration is in love with secrecy and covert activity and has turned national security into an intimidation tactic against a free press. It’s extremely disappointing.
One of the reasons why Americans aren’t outraged about Benghazi is that the event is a series of tragedies in search of a unifying explanation, and one that “Obama is evil” doesn’t cover. Because really, to suggest that the Pentagon or the White House would deliberately — and yes, this is EXACTLY what Republicans are suggesting — prevent special operations forces from rescuing American diplomats BECAUSE they worried about the potential political blowback because they KNEW exactly who was behind it (al Qaeda) is —well, it is to suggest that Barack Obama is simply and utterly evil.
The umbrage that State Department officials who were in Libya take at the response of the bureaucracy is well-grounded. But I wonder what it feels like to have their understandable ire, their mourning and grief and anger, be harnessed to a partisan political gladiator fight that’s aimed at a person who isn’t even running for president yet.
So here’s another absurdity. There is no way on God’s warming earth that the White House could have possibly “covered up” the fact of al Qaeda involvement had it been established early on and presented as a fact by the intelligence community. Republicans got briefings, classified briefings, attesting to the evidence that al Qeada-linked militants were ready to strike. The sources for that intelligence were sensitive at the time. But no matter: The briefings were accurate. Republicans knew. And indeed, they began to speak out almost immediately. And the White House, whatever it did and didn’t do, was forced to clarify very quickly what it was able to say about the incident. Where is the means and opportunity for a cover-up?
Or: if the GOP functioned like a legitimate opposition it would join force with liberal critics of the administration over drone warfare, War Powers expansion, and the assault on whistleblowers.
Representative Peter King, whose sapience makes Rick Santorum look like Henry Adams, averred yesterday that “Benghazi” was worse than Watergate and Iran-Contra. Let me remind my audience what “Watergate” meant, a synecdoche for a paramilitary operation run out of the Oval Office against students, radicals, Daniel Ellsberg, and the supposed existence of a certain piece of paper at the Brookings Institute. Meanwhile “Iran-Contra” was a military junta sanctioned by the National Security Council to ship arms to Iran through Israel for the release of hostages, then siphoning the sales of those arms to the Contras in Latin America, the last of which a violation of the Boland Amendment. A State Department fuckup of diplomacy and security that cost lives, Benghazi is now an excuse for Republicans who can no longer defeat Barack Hussein Obama in an election to bring down a certain retired former senator and Cabinet member who at the moment looks unstoppable in 2016. The definition of “coverup” has been neutered.
Charles Pierce reminds us of the good old days when the GOP loved Bill Clinton as much as it does now:
We had an entire summer’s worth of hearings into it and, at the end, nobody really understood a damned thing. Cattle futures? Overbilling? Castle Grande and cable TV? Vince Foster? And what did that have to do with a land deal in the first place? The fuel that kept launching that stuff into the mainstream was the notion of a “cover-up.” Time was, back in the good old days of Watergate, we knew what the crime was first, so the cover-up had a logical, sensible motive. Did somebody try to stymie the investigation into a criminal act in order to shield themselves and/or others from criminal liability. With Whitewater, the idea of a “cover-up” morphed into the general notion of whether or not the Clintons had acted to shield themselves from the political liabilities inherent in the way they may or may not have done business in Arkansas. Now, I believe in the right of the people to know everything they can about the people who seek to lead them. But bumping up mundane political ass-covering into a betrayal of the national trust is pure hackery. Right now, as nearly as I can tell — and I can’t say I’m not confused, either — the administration stands accused of soft-pedaling the facts on the Benghazi attack in order to sustain its campaign narrative of having al Qaeda on the run. Even if that were true, which I don’t think it is, and which even the three chimps on the davenport – Thanks, Wayne! — seem to find a dubious proposition, so what? The only way there would be a true betrayal of the national trust here would be if you could prove that the administration deliberately left the embassy unguarded in order to sustain that same campaign narrative. But you can’t prove that, because it isn’t really true, so you start chasing after middle-level State Department bureaucrats who came up with “talking points” for administration officials to use.
Q: On Obama’s 2012 election campaign web site, it clearly states that Obama has prosecuted six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. Does he think he’s appealing to some constituency with that affirmation?
A: I don’t know what base he’s appealing to. If he thinks he’s appealing to the nationalist base, well, they’re not going to vote for him anyway. That’s why I don’t understand it. I don’t think he’s doing anything besides alienating his own natural base. So it’s something else.
What it is is the same kind of commitment to expanding executive power that Cheney and Rumsfeld had. He kind of puts it in mellifluous terms and there’s a little difference in his tone. It’s not as crude and brutal as they were, but it’s pretty hard to see much of a difference.
It also extends to other developments, most of which we don’t really know about, like the surveillance state that’s being built and the capacity to pick up electronic communication. It’s an enormous attack on personal space and privacy. There’s essentially nothing left. And that will get worse with the new drone technologies that are being developed and given to local police forces.
As for Citizens United, Chomsky may think it’s a “rotten” decision but “it does have some justifications” if you’re a free speech libertarian.
I hate to quote the Daily Kos but:
Okay, so the White House is now facing imminent defeat in the Democratically controlled Senate on legislation the president has staked a huge amount of his political capital. This is the first time I’ve seen a 90 percent approval issue fail. Combine that with no movement on important judicial and executive branch nominations. So far we’ve seen a stupid $1 trillion dollar discretionary spending cut we were told was never going to happen, happen. And of course we’ve witnessed the political mess of the White House winning the worst kind of friends by attacking Social Security and making enemies of damn near everyone else. We’re seeing stagnant workforce numbers, with still record numbers leaving the labor force, even more with some of the crappiest jobs imaginable, and even more stuck in the mud with few upside prospects. Not to mention austerity economics coming from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And as a result, the president’s popularity is falling underwater and people still feel the country is careening.
If there’s at least one possible glimmer of win on the horizon, perhaps it is on immigration reform, but I’m not hopeful. The House is already talking about breaking up the bill. Considering this White House will always fight for any sort of line they can sign no matter how miniscule, I suspect by the time we get to the end of that process we will have possibly some watered down Dream Act and some extra money for border drones. That’s bout it. (h/t Digby)
Look, I had no hope this would pass, but that it came this close with an overwhelming majority of Americans supporting it means that the hard, awful, boring work of grassroots organizing must go on. They gotta keep at it. I agree with Michael Bloomberg of all people that the NRA’s power is vastly overrated yet the perception that the NRA is the NKVD frightens legislators. There will be a change.
Though bashed as “amnesty” by hardliners, the congressional plans to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants treat them like law breakers who need to watch their step for more than a dozen years.
They’ll have to pay fines, get fingerprinted, show they’re crime-free taxpayers and — little reported until now — check in periodically with a probation-like immigration system to make sure they’re in good standing with the law, according to Democrats and Republicans familiar with the Senate’s proposed legislation, which will be released Tuesday.
Those who miss a scheduled payment of their fines, upwards of $2,000, could lose the right to stay in the United States.
The earliest that most of the currently undocumented immigrants could become citizens: 13 years from the date of passage of the act.
That timeline becomes longer if the federal government doesn’t meet timelines to make good on creating a new visa-tracking system, ensuring employers don’t knowingly hire the undocumented and securing the border — at a cost of at least $5 billion, according to one version of the Senate bill.
I suppose “amnesty” means “not returning eleven million illegal immigrants by force of bayonet.”
I wasn’t surprised by the announcement yesterday that Barack Obama endorsed cuts to Social Security in the form of fiddling with a grotesquely named fiscal legerdemain called “chained CPI.” It didn’t surprise me because Barack Obama has governed like a boy who bought “I Like Ike” posters at thrift stores and because Democrats are stupid. Should House and Senate Democrats allow the president to get away with this flimflam, they will pay for it in 2014, a vengeance that will be exacted by moderate and conservative Democrats, not by liberals. As Digby notes:
A primary challenger doesn’t have to be an “ultra-lib” (whatever that is) to run against a Democrat who voted against Social Security. They could be a moderate or conservative, especially if there is a large elderly or veteran population. And it certainly doesn’t have to be in a swing district where a Republican might win the General. In fact, this will most likely happen in liberal districts if a progressive Democrat is foolish enough to vote with the president instead of her constituents. That’s where the activists have the most clout.
Of course, it won’t be confined to liberal districts because Social Security and medicare are so popular that even someone who is running from the right can use it to beat up a Democrat. I could see it happening in any Democratic district in the country. And certainly any Republican challenger will have no compunction about doing it: their only growing demographic is the elderly.
It has become a habit for newscasters to accept balderdash about Social Security from troglodytes. No one questions them. But don’t take my word for it. Let their suntanned demigod explain, in an obviously unscripited moment of exasperation:
There has been intense speculation as to why the administration has taken these steps, from prosaic political motivations going into the election to genuine belief on the part of the administration that fewer gun prosecutions, more deportations and a marijuana crackdown are the right policies. (Some people have suggested this is is because of fear of the federal police bureaucracy which pretty much does its own thing regardless of the president, which may be the scariest possibility of all.) It’s hard to know exactly what has made the administration take these positions because they are rarely asked about it. The campaign ignored it because the Republicans approach to all this is so much worse…
…And I have to point out that the one group of people one would expect to reward the president for these stances — the right wing — is the one group that hates him with a blinding passion and will never even give him credit for waking up in the morning. Perhaps moderates might be impressed, but I doubt they even know about it. (These aren’t issues that animate them.) At the very least the left has a bad taste in its mouth — at worst they are actively hostile. So, who is pleased with these actions? Who exactly is the government serving?
To add to this delicious grocery list, the Obama administration aims drone rockets at American citizens abroad accused of terrorism, just like Bill Clinton signed a punitive welfare reform bill and the Telecommunications Act. Only now is Clinton not reflexively dismissed as a rapist and husband of the woman who murdered Vince Foster. Canonization will come to Barack Obama in his lifetime.
About that leaked white paper authorizing drone strikes on American citizens. Actions have consequences:
…This document helpfully underscored the critical point that is otherwise difficult to convey: when you endorse the application of a radical state power because the specific target happens to be someone you dislike and think deserves it, you’re necessarily institutionalizing that power in general. That’s why political leaders, when they want to seize extremist powers or abridge core liberties, always choose in the first instance to target the most marginalized figures: because they know many people will acquiesce not because they support that power in theory but because they hate the person targeted. But if you cheer when that power is first invoked based on that mentality – I’m glad Obama assassinated Awlaki without charges because he was a Bad Man! – then you lose the ability to object when the power is used in the future in ways you dislike (or by leaders you distrust), because you’ve let it become institutionalize.
But it has become institutionalized, so hectoring Americans into caring for a concept as negotiable as citizenship is a waste of time. For one, most Americans consider an al-Awlaki a creature who abjured his citizenship the moment he was accused of posting nasty YouTube clips. Then there is the nauseating fact that in the era of self-deportation, the Dream Act, Governor Jan Brewer, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Hawaiian birth certificates, and “getting in the back of the line,” citizenship alchemizes from concept to fungible conceit — swallowed, rejected, or denied depending on the circumstances. Blizzards in the Northeast adduce a conspiracy orchestrated by a well-connected and -financed cabal of scientists disseminating a climate change fiction.
In short, Americans have accepted the Bush and Obama administration’s expansions of battlefields, have accepted that we fight a New Kind of War; the War on Drugs, Cancer, and Gingivitis were dress rehearsals.
The lead item in yesterday’s ABC News broadcast. Today’s New York Times editorial. Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night. Adam Serwer and The New Yorker, and the oft-hysterical Obamaphile Andrew Sullivan today (an Oxford man wrote the following one-sentence final paragraph: “Come back, Mr Obama. The nation turns its lonely eyes to you”). Chris Hayes will likely follow. These organizations and pundits comprise the squishy middle or the hard left. Not a one issued assuaging words about the Obama administration’s drone policy. I mention this only because I cannot think of a single moment during the Bush administration when its conservative base opposed a foreign policy decision.