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.
Oh I long for the days when Rolling Stone ran long reviews of terrible albums by good bands:
Blondie’s Autoamerican is a terrible album, but it’s bad in such an arcane, high-toned way that listening to it is perversely fascinating. After Parallel Lines gave Chris Stein a carte blanche, it was only a matter of time until he started living out his fantasies of himself as a deep thinker. Since he could always be counted on to hedge his bets, however, he cannily managed to sustain the illusion that he still cared about rock & roll on Eat to the Beat. That illusion is surely dead now. And Stein is no longer depriving the world of his “genius,” because Autoamerican is his LP all the way. Indeed, it’s such an anthology of intellectual onanism that it’s almost the rock equivalent of a godawful Ken Russell movie.
And Carson got away with “onanism.”
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.
Good news from my institution:
Stumped for years by a natural filter in the body that allows few substances, including life-saving drugs, to enter the brain through the bloodstream, physicians who treat neurological diseases may soon have a new pathway to the organ via a technique developed by a physicist and an immunologist working together at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
The FIU researchers developed the technique to deliver and fully release the anti-HIV drug AZTTP into the brain, but their finding has the potential to also help patients who suffer from neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy, as well as cancer.
Researchers believe that using this method will allow physicians to send a higher level of AZTTP — up to 97 percent more — to HIV-infected cells in the brain.
Currently, more than 99 percent of the antiretroviral therapies used to treat HIV, such as AZTTP, are deposited in the liver, lungs and other organs before they reach the brain.
We can thank David Brooks, whose columns are the tonal equivalent of the posture and expression of the above photo, for inspiring Jonathan Chait to dispense counsel to opinion journalists so obvious that of course it must be repeated:
Don’t debate straw men. If you’re arguing against an idea, you need to accurately describe the people who hold them. If at all possible, link to them and quote their argument. This is a discipline that forces opinion writers to prove that they’re debating an idea somebody actually holds. And quoting the subject forces them to show that somebody influential holds it — if the best example of the opposing view is a random blog comment, then you’re exposing the fact that you’re arguing against an idea nobody of any stature shares. This ought to be an easy and universal guideline, but in reality, it’s mostly flouted.
My own advice to young writers on our paper who emulate the Sunday morning hacks is stop watching them and read news. It amazes me how a panjandrum like George F. Will can debate the question of the week without reading the front page of The New York Times. A surefire way to inspire outrage is to read any front page, then worry about emulating Paul Krugman (Murray Kempton is a better influence).
As promised, the Pet Shop Boys today announced full details of their forthcoming album Electric — the second release from Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant in less than a year — and revealed the itinerary for a month-long, 19-date tour that will bring the duo back to North America for the first time in four years this September and October.
The group also debuted the video for “Axis,” the album’s opening track, due out digitally today.
Produced by Stuart Price, Electric is due out July 15 worldwide on PSB’s new label x2 through Kobalt Label Services. The 50-minute album features eight original songs and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last to Die,” plus an appearance by British singer/rapper Example on the song “Thursday.”
The tour opens in Miami Beach. On first listen “Axis” shows the Boys awake and banging a clattering Patrick Cowley-inspired electrogroove.
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.
My eyes popped like Roger Rabbit’s yesterday upon reading Matthew Yglesias’ Slate column. David Atkins responds:
Which leads to the other great failure of rational actor theory in libertarian economics: the artificial separation of government and the governed in a democratic society. At least in representative democracies, the government exists as a mutual compact of citizens who choose to prevent the ills and excesses of the coldhearted markets by funding a protective system of checks and balances, social programs, guaranteed infrastructure, worker protections, product regulations, and a host of other goods and services that reduce the ability of the powerful to exploit the powerless on the open market. The choice to pay taxes to regulate meat companies so that consumers don’t have to do the research and take on the purchase risk of which companies’ hamburgers might be tainted, is just as equally valid a decision as the choice between going to Burger King or McDonalds.
What does all this have to do with Bangladesh? Everything. No Bangladeshi chooses to work in a dangerous factory at risk of implosion. They do so because they have little other choice, and because profit-driven companies are more than happy to exploit them while charging top dollar for the products they create so cheaply. Certainly, in theory that is a risk that Bangladesh and its citizens may take because if they instituted stronger wages and labor protections, the sociopathic corporations that hire desperate overseas labor would simply move on to the next country. That’s the rational actor theory at work.
But in theory we as citizens of the world can also choose to not allow those corporations to engage in recklessly criminal behavior anywhere in the world.
Reminds me of Henry Wilcox’s line in E.M. Forster’s great novel of class Howards End: “The poor are poor. One feels sorry for them but – well, there it is.”
Marcello surpasses himself in this post: cultural history of England in 1981, chart overview, autobiography, Thatcher obituary.
I do remember that as a university student Dare was one of the first three albums I bought with my grant money. The others, which I bought at the same time, were U2’s October and Joy Division’s Still, the expensively embossed (but still grey) double album of live tracks and selected rarities – the live stuff is mostly out-of-tune and unlistenable while the Heart And Soul box set has long superseded the latter. Most people at the time, me included, bought it for “Dead Souls”; “They keep CALLING me!” October in retrospect, and perhaps even at the time, was only a fraction of the record that Boy was (and Boy got much more play on my stereo at the time), but Joyce’s Dubliners was on my English Language and Literature reading list and it’s easy to get a little sentimental when you’re newly far from home. And there were singles, singles, always new singles, new revelations about music practically on a weekly basis, things that I hadn’t heard anybody trying before, if even they’d thought about trying them.
And there were the charts. The thing which Martin Fry and Paul Morley had co-conspired to call “New Pop” had now made itself known. Records were charting in October which wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of being a hit even six months earlier. The action had, as intended, moved towards the mainstream, and the standards were almost embarrassingly high; look up the Top 40 for, say, the week ending 17 October and marvel at a chart where an eight-and-a-half minute minimalist conceptual performance art piece about America, communication and alienation – Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman (For Massenet),” my second favourite single of all time – could not only get into the chart but also only be the second best single in that chart.
The best, at #38, was “Everything’s Gone Green” by New Order. Strictly speaking it was a double A-sided 7-inch with the excellent “Procession,” but a 12-inch came out not long afterwards, perhaps to offset the downbeat concept of their excoriating debut album Movement, and if there are five-and-a-half better minutes in pop music I haven’t heard them. Why is it such a great single? Because it tells the story – indeed, acts it out, in real time, before the listener – of a group on the verge of death rediscovering life and inventing something new in the process.
After which we get thorough reviews of “Everything’s Gone Green,” but also Heaven 17′s Penthouse and Pavement, and Human League’s Dare, released within weeks of each other and the former consisting of discarded Leaguers.
Alex Pareene on The New York Post:
As long as Rupert Murdoch has owned it, the New York Post has been defined by its shamelessness and total lack of interest in taking responsibility for its worst errors and poor judgment. It is quite hard to get fired — or be forced to resign in disgrace — from the Post, for the crime of getting something disastrously wrong. No heads rolled when the paper reported in 2004, on the front page, that John Kerry had selected Dick Gephardt as his running mate…
Murdoch’s Post cares so little what others think of it that it doesn’t even make editorial changes that would make it more successful — say, by being less racist and terrible in a diverse, liberal city. The Post is so awful that it has allowed the Daily News — a terminally boring rival tabloid published by a slightly less terrible but much less interesting rich person — to survive.
Charles Pierce on why the gun control bill failed:
I wish I believed it was just all about money. Then Gabrielle Giffords, Michael Bloomberg and the other millionnaires lining up on the other side would have a fighting chance. I wish I believed that it was just all about power, and the threat of losing elections, because then the money now lining up on the other side could even the odds. But I don’t believe it is. There is a strong, coherent bloc in this building that believes that a certain level of violence is so inherent in this country that it is shielded absolutely by the Constitution, and that it is so essential to who we are as a people that to try to control it — let alone eliminate it — weakens our national institutions and blights our national character. There is nothing Machiavellian about this. It is what people believe is part of what makes America what it is. It is an essential article of faith. It is unshakable. It is implacable. And it is triumphant.