Friday, May 17, 2013

More on Benghazi

It becomes more and more clear that the "cover-up scandal" of Benghazi was nothing of the sort.   Under the pressure of time about getting information to the public and deciding how much to tell, the inter-bureau struggles between CIA and State Department were far more important than any political considerations.   Political advisers were not part of the email chain;  nor was the White House staff.

Here are a few facts that weren't known at first:

1.  Benghazi was not a State Department mission except as a cover for a CIA station.  There were 37 CIA personnel stationed there and only about 5 State Department employees.    State was really not in charge of providing security for a CIA operation.

2.  The secrecy of CIA missions and the desire to protect undercover operatives was a factor in the confusion about how much to tell the public.

3.  Now that the email exchanges have been released, it seems that the CIA was wanting to make it look like a State mission (how much to protect secret operations and how much to avoid blame is not clear).   And State was resisting being made to take the rap for something it was not responsible for.

4.  However, the email summary leaked by some Republican staff a week ago appears to have been deliberately altered by them to make it appear that State was trying to cover up its role.  Even though it was a paraphrasing summary, erroneous at that, it was put in quotations marks.   Now the emails seem to show more that State was resisting being blamed for something that was not their responsibility.   And -- why were Republican staff distorting the meaning in the leaked emails?

5.  Susan Rice, who was the delegated face of the administration on the Sunday morning talk shows, had nothing to do with crafting the message.    Her name does not appear in any of these email exchanges.   She was merely given the compromise list of "talking points" that had finally been crafted by the emailing factions.   But she took the heat, and it probably cost her being named to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.    That's very very unfortunate, because none of this was her fault. 

6.  It seems that President Obama is right about the "cover-up":   "There is no there, there."   (We forget that this memorable phrase originated with Gertrude Stein, speaking about her home town of Oakland, California).

7.  Republicans who demagogued this thing now have a bunch of egg on their faces.   ImpeachmentWorse than Watergate?   Really, John Boehner?   Really


The politics of it all

I'm not saying that there was nothing wrong with the IRS selectively targeting Tea Party groups and "patriot" groups for extra scrutiny of their tax exempt qualifications, but there's probably more politics involved than wrong-doing.

The real scandal involving tax exempt political groups is that the IRS is not all over all of them -- especially including Karl Rove's big PAC that hardly even puts up a "social welfare" front to cover its political activities.  The Democrats are not totally clean either.

But, more than that, it's individual, local politics.  The big fear in Republican races for 2014 is that the Tea Party would turn against the Republicans, that they would win the primaries with ultra-conservatives and then lose to Democrats in the general elections.

Mitch "Aunt Minnie" McConnell is a case in point.   So far, he has no announced Democratic aspirant to challenge him in Kentucky's senatorial election.   So his only hurdle to re-election, despite his unpopularity, is the Tea Party.

So the IRS debacle hands McConnell a silver platter on which to demonstrate his standing up for the conservatives, aka Tea Party.

Do you think this might motivate Aunt Minnie just a wee bit?


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Out of step? Or just out of it?

Michele Bachmann is notorious for making outrageous statements and for her ultra-conservative stances.   Her therapist husband made news by running a clinic that offers "reparative therapy," the controversial attempt to change gay people to straight.

Maybe she represents an ultra-conservative congressional district, and maybe she's not out of step with them.   But consider these two takes on Minnesota.

Bachman claims that "I will tell you, as I have been home in my district, in the sixth district of Minnesota, there isn't a weekend that hasn't gone by that someone says to me, 'Michelle, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren't you impeaching the president?'"

Now gibe that with the fact that Minnesota's legislature and governor have just become the 12th state to enact a law allowing same-sex marriage in their state.

Although the two statements arise from different issues, somehow I just don't think the same folks would be supporting both positions.   So, either Michele is out of step or else her district is out of step with the rest of the state, which is quite possible.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Republican scandal-mongering #2

Let's see:   we have Benghazi, the IRS, and now the DoJ and the AP.   Any other big deals the Repubs can try to turn into a scandal?

1.  As a scandal, Benghazi is a non-starter, except that it involves the loss of life and world-image.   Turns out, according to an excellent column by David Brooks in Tuesday's New York Times, that the U. S. mission in Benghazi was primarily a CIA operation, and it was their responsibility to provide security.   But the whole "scandal," about who said what, is the result of trying to shift the blame within from CIA to State Department.   They clashed over what the early "talking points" should be, so they only put out -- and this is where Susan Rice's Sunday morning debacle originated -- what both CIA and State could agree on, which wasn't much.   Which meant that the least controversial story (reaction to the anti-Muslim cartoon) was what got focused on, excluding other possibilities that had different interpretations by different agencies.   The more likely bases for the attack on our mission were cancelled out in the inter-department disagreements.

As to the so-called "cover-up" by the White House, that's just a lot of bullshit from Republicans trying to discredit Obama and, more especially, Hillary Clinton.   Today, CNN released a copy of the real email from a top WH aide that had been released in supposedly summary form by ABC a few days ago.   The two versions have very different implications, the real text lending itself much less to charges of cover-up.

So is this "scandal" really more about turf war/blame war between the CIA and the State Department?

2.  The IRS non-scandal was pretty much explained in my post on yesterday.

3.  Now the DoJ/Associated Press story may be a real scandal -- or it may not.  We don't yet know the details of what Justice was investigating, so it's hard to say whether it was justified.  AG Eric Holder has said that the security breach they were investigating was one of the most serious that he has  seen in his whole 30+ year career as a prosecutor -- supposedly justifying the whole operation.

 We also don't know whether DoJ obtained a warrant for the phone taps.   So it's premature to call it a scandal until more is known, at least known to Congressional oversight or the DoJ Inspector General.

However, it does raise the worries that many have , on both ends of the political spectrum, about Big Brother and loss of our privacy in the interest of security.   Personally, I am in favor of a Free Press in big capital letters.   It is a necessary fourth branch of our governmental system to make democracy work.   Not that it has functioned too well lately in being the watchdog that keeps our political leaders honest.   That's even more reason to protect it's autonomy and rights.

I'm going to reserve judgement on #3 until we know more.  But the other two, in my opinion, are not worth the time/energy being lavished on them.    The Obama administration needs to do a better job of candid explaining -- just as David Brooks did in his column.   Don't let the Darrel Issa's and the Lindsey Graham's steal the show and push a story beyond any ability to rein it back in with common sense and factual explanations.


What about this, Paul Ryan?

The Congressional Budget Office has now revised its estimate of the 2013 budget deficit -- and it's down by over 20% of what it was projected to be just a few months ago:   from some $845 billion down to $642 billion.

The deficit for 2014 is anticipated to drop even further to about $378 billion, or about 2.1% of the economy, a very respectable amount.

So, what do you say to this, Paul Ryan?    You were predicting disaster if we didn't adopt your austerity measures.   But this rapid shrinking is happening under a Democratic administration.   Remember?   Barack Obama is still president.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sanity about the "IRS scandal"

Fueled by partisan hunger for scandal to tarnish the Obama administration, as well as Hillary Clinton's chances for 2016, Republicans are blowing this "IRS scandal" all out of proportion.

Yes, profiling -- whether it's racial or partisan political -- is considered unfair and wrong.   And it should have been better defined what groups they were targeting.   They definitely should have been scrutinizing groups that were applying for tax-exempt status as "promoting social welfare" and yet were running ads that were obviously aimed at one political party or another.

The problem was that they used certain words -- "Tea Party" and "patriot" -- to define who they would scrutinize.   But, in the past, Democratic groups have also gone over the line in using tax exempt funds for political ads -- and, in a different political climate, have been investigated as well.

So it's a legitimate practice to go after, but it cannot be partisan in practice.

Having said all that, let's keep this in perspective about what was actually done.  No group was denied status based on their name, unless investigation actually showed they were in the wrong in practice.   All it did was require an extra level of investigation, more forms to fill out, etc.   If they were clean, they passed the test.

Inconvenient, yes.   Perhaps intimidating.   But what really was lost?

The problem was not that the IRS targeted non-profit groups for additional investigation;  the problem is that the IRS bungled the job and made itself look bad.

Here's the tragedy of this circus:   (1)  The IRS had its dubious reputation for fairness further tarnished;  and (2)  It will now be even more difficult to investigate those organizations who are flauting the law against political activity by these 502(c)(4) groups.  


Monday, May 13, 2013

And then there were twelve . . .

The Minnesota Senate just passed a gay marriage law, after being decisively passed last week by the House.

Minnesota is the third state to adopt marriage equality
in the past 11 days.
This brings the total number of states to 12 -- or 13 if we count California, which did have the law that got overturned by Proposition 8, which is now awaiting a decision by the SCOTUS.


Another "much ado . . ." Republican response

Not content to use Benghazi as a political whipping point, Republicans are also show-boating the revealed IRS penchant for selectively investigating those with "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their titles.

The claim is that this was political because certain groups were singled out for extra scrutiny, similar to racial profiling in crime investigation.

Come one (once again), guys.    These are groups that are asking for tax-exempt status, so they can collect money from supporters and have contributions be tax-exempt.   The IRA should scrutinize their organizations for eligibility.   

They are not just like innocent bystanders at a crime scene who happen to be black.    They applied for special status.   Lots of organizations try to use their special tax status to get money and then use it for political purposes.  That's illegal.   The IRS has an office that specifically handles cases of abuse of tax exempt status.   That's what they do.

Wouldn't a reasonable person conclude from the daily news that these groups are political?

On top of this, the head of IRS was appointed by George W. Bush.   And the IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Office has said that the plan was "absolutely not influenced by the [Obama] administration."

But somehow Republicans have twisted this to try to indict the president.  Still, even usually reasonable Susan Collins (R-ME) said she was disappointed that President Obama had not personally condemned the practice.  "The president needs to make it clear that this is totally unacceptable in America."

As maddening as it is to have to put up with this relentless negativity, perhaps we should look at it as the evidence that the Republicans have nothing positive to put forth -- their economic message has just been destroyed.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Over the top on Benghazi

Without doubt, the attack on our mission in Benghazi was a bad thing last year.   Of course, we didn't have adequate security.   As I understand it, there were two reasons for that:  (1)  Republicans had cut the budget and they didn't have enough security troops in the region;  and (2) the State Department didn't want to make our military presence so obvious there in Libya.

So when the attack came, the closest special ops troops were 1600 miles away, and they could not have gotten there before it was all over.

Hindsight is always so wonderful, especially when you're in the opposition and when you're trying to paint the Obama/Clinton foreign service team as weak and insufficiently militant (I'm talking about McCain, Graham, et al).

And, yes, they were a bit muddled in getting the talking points decided on.  Why wasn't it legitimate to put a spin on it to try to keep Republicans from distorting it for their hawkish purposes?   But talking about impeaching President Obama because of who said what on a Sunday morning talk show??   Claiming that this is his "Watergate"???    Come on.

It's tragic that some of our valuable foreign service people died.   But it's a hazardous profession, and Libya was a powder keg.   I'm not taking these deaths lightly, but you can't be in this war zone and not run risks.   If we had had a fortified bunker type mission there, what effects would that have had in inflaming the opposition?

Let's face it.   This is maybe 15% legitimate concerns that are being investigated -- and about 85% politics.   They're forever trying to diminish Obama.   And they're trying to smear Hillary Clinton to discourage her from running in 2016 -- or else to damage her politically.  They must really be frightened that she will run.