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May 19 2013

The Washington scandal machine

The Washington media talking heads had a wonderful week with the trifecta of scandals that suddenly engulfed the Obama administration. I paid just cursory attention to them, following my rule that the things that get the most attention from the chattering classes are the ones of least significance. The main consequence is to distract attention from major wrong doing that has bipartisan and elite approval, such as the continuing abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo, indefinite detention, the drone killing program, the egregious violations of civil rights, and the continuing swindling by the financial sector and the one-percenters.

Even when the issue is a reasonable one, attention tends to be focused on less significant aspects of it. Take for example, Benghazi. The brutal murder of an ambassador and three other members of the diplomatic corps in Libya is a serious matter that undoubtedly merits an investigation to understand what happened and how such things can be prevented in the future. But the Republicans, in their attempt to use this as a political weapon against president Obama and Hillary Clinton, have seized on the most trivial aspects of it, such as the so-called talking points and that Obama should have used the word ‘terrorist’ instead of ‘act of terror’. So now we have a circus.

The second so-called scandal is the IRS supposedly targeting conservative groups. Using the IRS as a political weapon is a serious matter but it is not clear that that was the case here or whether the IRS was having genuine difficulty distinguishing between political action and social welfare. The real scandal here is that these groups get tax exemptions at all. They, like churches, get it because they are supposedly primarily social welfare organizations but that is laughable. I think there is no way to draw up guidelines to prevent abuse. My feeling is that nobody, religious, charities, schools, or anybody else, should be given tax-exempt status. This will create a major upheaval initially but we will eventually reach a new steady state that will be much healthier because people can engage in political or religious activity without the government being involved.

The third scandal is the Obama administration’s snooping on the phone calls of the Associated Press. This is serious because it is just the tip of the iceberg. The real scandal is how the Obama administration has treated the civil liberties constitutional protections of everyone with contempt. The media did not seem to be too perturbed by wiretapping and other forms of illegal surveillance when the government went after political activists and whistleblowers but gets upset when they themselves are the targets.

What we now see on display with the phone-tapping scandal is the arrogance of the Obama administration. They must have felt emboldened by the fact that they were not being condemned for murdering US citizens or abusing prisoners or persecuting whistleblowers to think that they could do anything with impunity, and thus overreached. I would like to hope that this particular scandal will expand to cover all these abuses but I doubt it, since those things have bipartisan and elite support.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    smrnda

    I don’t actually see anything wrong with the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups at all. They are clearly partisan, with a platform that is vocally anti-tax and anti-federal-government, which kind of makes me think they’d be willing to pull any trick to get out of paying taxes.

    Overall I agree that the requirements for being tax-exempt in any way are too vague to be particularly useful. I’m cautious about eliminating the tax exempt status entirely because I do know of some useful non-profits that operate on a slim margin, but we need far better regulations.

  2. 2
    smhll

    I paid just cursory attention to them, following my rule that the things that get the most attention from the chattering classes are the ones of least significance.

    I also try to ignore ‘news stories’ that are at the lots of talk but few facts determined yet phase. I figure I can catch up after some facts appear and are confirmed.

  3. 3
    steve84

    There were a dozen or so attacks, with dozens of dead and injured, on US consulates and embassies during the Shrub administration. I don’t recall any public investigations and scandals over that. It was just seen as normal.

  4. 4
    Corvus illustris

    The second so-called scandal is the IRS supposedly targeting conservative groups …

    My favorite tax expert (whose job consists in making sure that certain kinds of work of a law firm conform to tax law and IRS regs, and who routinely works with the Cincinnati office) has an alternative explanation for the alleged “targeting.” It seems that the IRS routinely examines new applications for tax-exempt status carefully–”high potential for abuse”–and that these applications are usually filed after the prospective applicant has a track record over a year or two (so that the applicant can establish bona fides). The Tea Party groups start appearing at the correct time to insure that their applications get submitted and scrutinized at exactly the right time to ignite the current firestorm puff of marsh gas. And one defective “non-profit” may tie to another and then that one also gets looked at, so Tea Party chicanery poisons the well for other right-wing outfits. This is just SOP for the IRS. Of course the Obama admin preëmptively apologizes and butchers the sacrificial lamb before all the facts are analyzed.

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