Daily Archive: 05/15/2013

May 15 2013

IRS Gate: Just Ineffective Management?

President Obama is definitely having a bad week with two screw ups by the IRS and the Department of Justice and the Republicans obsession with Benghazi. The media has latched on to these “crises” like pit bulls with a juicy ankle. While Benghazi-gate is purely political with its eye on tainting the possible 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, the secret subpoena of AP’s phone records and the IRS targeting of right wing 501(c)4’s financing have more relevance.

The news that the IRS was focusing on conservative groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names broke when the director of the IRS’s exempt-organi­zations division, Lois G. Lerner, confirmed complaints by tea party groups that their applications for ­tax-exempt status were being unfairly scrutinized and delayed. Oops.

Naturally, the right wing came was furious and rejected the IRS apology demanding an full investigation:

“I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “An apology won’t put this issue to rest.”

“The IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots. “This deliberate targeting and harassment of tea party groups reaches a new low in illegal government activity and overreach.”

The IRS has a notoriously bad history of being used by presidents to harass and intimidate their political enemies, most infamously by Richard M. Nixon. Since Watergate the IRS was reformed making it more independent supposedly to insulate from politics.

In a government oversight report (pdf) by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the IRS was found to have acted “inappropriately” and was poorly managed allowing “inappropriate criteria to be developed and stay in place for more than 18 months.”

All In host, Chris Hayes discussed the report and how the IRS handled this internally with New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessor.

Andy Kroll at Mother Jones recounts the five things you need to know in the Inspector General’s IRS Tea Party Scandal Report:

Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration conducted the probe from June 2012 to February 2013 in response to pressure from Congress, and the 54-page report sheds light on the whole debacle.

Here are five key takeaways from the report.

1) Incompetence appears to have caused this scandal, not wrongdoing. [..]

2) Even the IRS doesn’t understand how political is too political in the murky world of 501(c)(4) groups. [..]

3) All the confusion at the IRS led to a huge backlog and a lot of unnecessary headaches. [..]

4) The IRS didn’t feel outside pressure to single out tea partiers. [..]

5) The report gives as much fodder to transparency advocates as it does to IRS critics.

May 15 2013

I used to think I was brave.

I would stand on a bridge like Gandalf and thunder- “You can not pass!”

Well, let me tell you, taking a dump in a bedpan while your friends watch cures that a lot.

Today I think about Rosa Parks.

“You can not pass!”

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Contemptible Defense of the DoJ’s Seizure of AP Phone Records

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Tuesday May 14, 2013 8:21 pm

“Look, you guys will claim classified-and it’s not just you as an administration-any administration claims everything is somehow a national security leak.” He suggested a third party should decide whether a leak was or is going to endanger lives and asked if the president supported that kind of protection for media. Carney declined to address this question.

The New York Times reported in October 2009, “The Obama administration has told lawmakers that it opposes legislation that could protect reporters from being imprisoned if they refuse to disclose confidential sources who leak material about national security, according to several people involved with the negotiations.”

“The administration this week sent to Congress sweeping revisions to a ‘media shield’ bill that would significantly weaken its protections against forcing reporters to testify,” the Times also reported. So, both Carney and Holder are being disingenuous.

To top it off, a reporter asked him what he thought about the Obama administration’s civil liberties record, whether the administration was disappointed and why more had not been done. Holder shiftily answered, “I’m proud of what we’ve done. He cited “the policies we put in place with regard to the war on terror,” the discontinuation of certain “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the aggressive enforcement of civil rights laws. And, pressed further, he added, “This administration has put a real value on the rule of law and our values as Americans.”

It is unclear what value the Justice Department is promoting when it engages in a wide fishing expedition for records from twenty different phone lines in AP offices that were used by over 100 journalists working for the AP. It is unclear what value is being upheld when two months of time is targeted and it appears that the Justice Department may not only be able to secretly use the material obtained to investigate the leak on the sting operation but also possibly look into the sources for stories by the AP on the US drone program and investigate those sources.

The major sea change in media discussions of Obama and civil liberties

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Wednesday 15 May 2013 10.45 EDT

There are two significant points to make from these events. First, it is remarkable how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as “cruel and inhuman”.

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration’s true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as “regular Americans”. Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman – once the most vocal defender of Bush’s vast warrantless eavesdropping programs – suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.

Leave to the side how morally grotesque it is to oppose rights assaults only when they affect you. The pragmatic point is that it is vital to oppose such assaults in the first instance no matter who is targeted because such assaults, when unopposed, become institutionalized. Once that happens, they are impossible to stop when – as inevitably occurs – they expand beyond the group originally targeted. We should have been seeing this type of media outrage over the last four years as the Obama administration targeted non-media groups with these kinds of abuses (to say nothing of the conduct of the Bush administration before that). It shouldn’t take an attack on media outlets for them to start caring this much.

Second, we yet again see one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy: the way in which it has transformed and degraded so many progressive precincts. Almost nobody is defending the DOJ’s breathtaking targeting of AP, and with good reason: as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press made clear yesterday, it’s unprecedented:

(T)here are a few people excusing or outright defending the DOJ here: namely, some progressive blogs and media outlets. They are about the only ones willing to defend this sweeping attempt to get the phone records of AP journalists.

As I noted yesterday, TPM’s Josh Marshall – who fancies himself an edgy insurgent against mainstream media complacency as he spends day after day defending the US government’s most powerful officials – printed an anonymous email accusing AP of engineering a “smear of Justice”. Worse, Media Matters this morning posted “talking points” designed to defend the DOJ in the AP matter that easily could have come directly from the White House and which sounded like Alberto Gonzales, arguing that “if the press compromised active counter-terror operations for a story that only tipped off the terrorists, that sounds like it should be investigated” and that “it was not acceptable when the Bush Administration exposed Valerie Plame working undercover to stop terrorists from attacking us. It is not acceptable when anonymous sources do it either.” It also sought to blame Republicans for defeating a bill to protect journalists without mentioning that Obama, once he became president, reversed his position on such bills and helped to defeat it. Meanwhile, the only outright, spirited, unqualified defense of the DOJ’s conduct toward AP that I’ve seen comes from a Media Matters employee and “liberal” blogger.

During the Bush years, it was conservatives who supported the Bush DOJ and Alberto Gonzales’ threats against the press on national security grounds; now, defenders of such threats to press freedoms are found almost exclusively from progressive circles (similarly, many of the most vicious and vocal attacks on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning have come from progressives).

This is such an under-appreciated but crucial aspect of the Obama legacy. Recall back in 2008 that the CIA prepared a secret report (subsequently leaked to WikiLeaks) that presciently noted that the election of Barack Obama would be the most effective way to stem the tide of antiwar sentiment in western Europe, because it would put a pleasant, happy, progressive face on those wars and thus convert large numbers of Obama supporters from war opponents into war supporters. That, of course, is exactly what happened: not just in the realm of militarism but civil liberties and a whole variety of other issues. That has had the effect of transforming what were, just a few years ago, symbols of highly contentious right-wing radicalism into harmonious bipartisan consensus. That the most vocal defenders of this unprecedented government acquisition of journalists’ phone records comes from government-loyal progressives – reciting the standard slogans of National Security and Keeping Us Safe and The Terrorists – is a potent symbol indeed of this transformation.

And btw- Electoral Victory my ass.

May 15 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

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Katrina vanden Heuvel: Christie’s broken promise

Last week, as news circulated of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight-loss surgery, so did a video in which Christie parodied his own brand – and the fleece he wore day and night during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. In the video, he asks everybody from Morning Joe to Jon Bon Jovi if they’ve seen his now-missing fleece, without which he is powerless, like Iron Man without his suit.

The governor may be able to poke fun at the absurdity of, among other things, his rising star, rumored ambitions and “relentless” fleece, but his real shortcomings are no laughing matter. [..]

Christie’s refusal to engage on climate change is all the more surprising because of the significant environmental commitments he made while campaigning for his first term – commitments that garnered him the coveted endorsement of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Laura Flanders: FEMA Denies Aid To Housing Co-Ops after Sandy

According to New York’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, some 120 co-op buildings, with 13,000 apartments, and 368 condominiums, with 7,000 units, sustained flooding and damage after Hurricane Sandy blew through town.

Many now need extensive repairs, but people who live in housing co-ops are considered small businesses under federal law and as such they’re ineligible for federal hurricane relief.  Instead of relief, they’re being advised to apply for a “small business” loan even though they are essentially nonprofit entities set up by property owners.

That’s what many New Yorkers have been discovering to their surprise, as they’ve been turned down for FEMA aid. Even though the FEMA assistance is finally coming through, people who live in co-ops just can’t get it. And that hits low income co-op households especially hard, according to the executive director of an organization that helps low income New Yorkers turn distressed city properties into co-operatively owned and operated homes.

Aura Bogado: While Congress Debates Immigration, Deportations Rage On

Congress has a long road ahead on immigration reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee has started to consider some 300 amendments challenging the nearly 900-page bill crafted by the Gang of Eight. Lawmakers are hopeful that legislation will pass both houses by the end of summer. But from now until then, the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants may continue full force. A group of advocates is now making a renewed call on President Obama to suspend deportations of those people who would gain status in the bill’s final version later this year. [..]

Obama met with representatives from more than a dozen progressive unions and business leaders in February, and declined a similar request to halt deportations at that time. Advocates point out that this time is different, because the bipartisan Gang of Eight has moved forward, and the move to suspend deportations would work around the current proposal. In February, Obama stated that he didn’t want to start a controversy that could derail the bill in Congress. But by his not heeding the voices of the families whose loved ones have been removed, the controversy of record high deportations continues.

Jenny Brown and Stephanie Seguin: We Won’t Stop Until the Morning After Pill Is Available to All, Regardless of Age

For a decade, we have protested and battled in court for Plan B access. Enough with the Obama administration’s delays

We have been fighting for a decade for something so basic: for women in America to have easy access to safe and affordable birth control, including the “morning-after pill” (sometimes referred to by the specific drug name of Plan B).

We won a key victory when a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to make the morning-after pill available other over-the-counter – in other words, to make it available without a prescription. Unfortunately, our fight didn’t end there as the administration tried to delay, but last week the courts again ruled on the side of women’s access to birth control, regardless of age.

Lauren Carsick: As the UN Evades Responsibility for the Cholera Epidemic, Haitians Continue to Suffer

Advocates for over 5,000 victims of cholera in Haiti put the UN on notice that they intend to file suit in a national court if the UN continues its refusal to provide compensation for its negligence in introducing cholera to the country. Haiti’s first cholera epidemic in over a century compounded the misery in a country reeling from the devastating 2010 earthquake that ravaged its already vulnerable health and sanitation system. As of this month, the epidemic has caused incalculable suffering – the death toll from cholera exceeds 8,100, and over 654,000 Haitians have been sickened.  Despite multiple scientific studies that have consistently attributed the cause of the outbreak of cholera in Haiti to UN troops from Nepal and the UN’s negligent waste disposal system, the UN is claiming that it is immune from claims.The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and theBureau des Avocats Internationauxsubmitted a claim on behalf of cholera victims for relief and reparations to the UN on November 3, 2011,requesting that the UN upgrade the national water and sanitation infrastructure, provide compensation to victims for their losses, and issue a public apology

Suzanne York: Koalas: The Canary in Australia’s Coal Mine?

The news of late out of Australia has not been the most encouraging.  

For starters, the country continues to mine coal at a rapid pace, upping its exports of the dirty fuel.  It is the world’s biggest coal exporter.  A recent report found that if the expected expansions of Australia’s coal exports continue as planned, global carbon dioxide emissions could increase by 1.2 billion metric tons a year. [..]

And one last news item of note has been the worsening plight of koalas, the unofficial symbol of Australia. Climate change is amongst the many concerns facing the marsupials, where more occurrences of extremes in weather pose a threat to the koala population.

May 15 2013

On This Day In History May 15

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

May 15 is the 135th day of the year (136th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 230 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, the Virginia Convention instructs its Continental Congress delegation to propose a resolution of independence from Great Britain, paving the way for the United States Declaration of Independence.

The Virginia Conventions were a series of five political meetings in the Colony of Virginiaduring the American Revolution. Because the House of Burgesses had been dissolved in 1774 by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, the conventions served as a revolutionary provisional government until the establishment of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia in 1776.

The fifth convention began May 6, 1776 and met in Williamsburg. On May 15, the convention declared independence from Britain and adopted a set of three momentous resolutions: one calling for a declaration of rights for Virginia, one calling for establishment of a republican constitution, and a third calling for federal relations with whichever other colonies would have them and alliance with whichever foreign countries would have them. It also instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to declare independence. Virginia’s congressional delegation was thus the only one under unconditional positive instructions to declare independence; Virginia was already independent, and so its convention did not want their state, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, to “hang separately.” According to James Madison’s correspondence for that day, Williamsburg residents marked the occasion by taking down the Union Jack from over the colonial capitol and running up a continental union flag.

On June 7, Richard Henry Lee, one of Virginia’s delegates to Congress, carried out these instructions and proposed independence in the language the convention had commanded him to use: that “these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” This paved the way for the American Declaration of Independence, which also reflected the idea that not one nation, but thirteen free and independent states were aborning on the east coast of North America.

The convention amended, and on June 12 adopted, George Mason‘s Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the United States Bill of Rights. On June 29, the convention approved the first Constitution of Virginia, which was also the first written constitution adopted by the people’s representatives in the history of the world. The convention chose Patrick Henry as the first governor of the new Commonwealth of Virginia, and he was inaugurated on June 29, 1776. Thus, Virginia had a functioning, permanent, republican constitution before July 4, 1776 — uniquely among the thirteen American colonies.

May 15 2013

Trashing Freedom of the Press by the Obama DOJ

Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.

~Benjamin Franklin~

   “On Freedom of Speech and the Press”, Pennsylvania Gazette, 17 November 1737

The latest Obama administration headache, “AP-Gate,” that it essentially created on its own, goes the core of the principles on which this country was founded. There is a good reason that the very first amendment addresses freedom of speech and a free press. Yes, at times they have appeared to be just another arm of the government, especially when they spewed the propaganda about 9/11 and Iraq. But every once in awhile they get it right, like the New York Times did on June 13, 1971 when they exposed the dirty secrets of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration by printing the first segment of the Pentagon Papers. Looking at what happened in the aftermath of those revelations and how it all worked out in the end, reminds us that sometimes government functions in spite of itself.

It’s fairly obvious that the Obama administration is trying to cover its own complicity in what Attorney General Eric Holder labeled among “the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen” putting “the American people at risk.” Those proclamations about that leak are laughable since the reason Holder had recused himself from the investigation is that he, himself, is at the center of the storm, along with the new CIA Director John Brennan. All in the name of the continued cover up of the Bush and Obama war crimes.

In an editorial, the New York Times called out the Obama administration for its “chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers” and its lack of a credible reason for it “for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press.”

Both Mr. Holder and Mr. Cole declared their commitment – and that of President Obama – to press freedoms. Mr. Cole said the administration does not “take lightly” such secretive trolling through media records.

We are not convinced. For more than 30 years, the news media and the government have used a well-honed system to balance the government’s need to pursue criminals or national security breaches with the media’s constitutional right to inform the public. This action against The A.P., as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press outlined in a letter to Mr. Holder, “calls into question the very integrity” of the administration’s policy toward the press.

As matter of fact, in September 2009, President Obama did a complete reversal of his position on the reporter shield law that he supported in 2007. What he proposed and Democrats opposed, would have gutted judicial review. Rachel Maddow overlooked that point last night, as well, in an otherwise interesting segment that walks us through the importance of freedom of the press and the serious disregard of the Constitution and rules by the Obama Justice Department. Her guest was David Schulz, a media attorney for more than 30 years now representing the Associated Press.

Eric Holder, like Alberto Gonzalez and John Mitchell, lacks the integrity to hold the office of Attorney General. He should resign immediately.

May 15 2013

Chronic Tonic-Mother’s Day

originally published at VOTS

As a family we were never the Hallmark Card picture of any holiday, but we celebrated and enjoyed them just the same. Mother’s Day was no exception. We never did anything over the top, just cards and flowers for mom, gifts when we were flush, and a nice family dinner. The non-moms get to clean up and that is pretty much how it went for most of my life.

Now, here is where I’ll tell you a little something about my mom. My mom was smart, funny, the Aunt who was everybody’s favorite, and notoriously hard to buy a gift for. You could try, but if she opened that bugger and wasn’t thrilled with what was inside? Oh! There was no hiding that, she just couldn’t pretend. That is hard on a kid. Happily, as she got older, she started collecting things, Seraphim Angels for one, giving us all an easy out. Just add to her collection and she’d be pleased as punch. That’s over now. There’s no more pleasure or displeasure, just a distracted sense of–Oh, is it Mother’s Day?

It shouldn’t be this hard, yet somehow it is. I can’t even explain it. I loved my Grandmother as much as one could possibly love another human being, and I helped nurse her through her final year on this earth right here in the room where I sit. A series of strokes took her mobility, her speech and finally her life, and that was very hard, but it wasn’t like this. The doctor told us all that we took much better care of her than she would have ever received in long term care, she was never alone, she was always surrounded by family who loved her. It was at this time that my mother got a promise from me–no less for you, Mom, never will you be abandoned to strangers, not on my watch. That’s a promise she’s reminded me of at times over the years, not lately, because she doesn’t remember, but I do.

Dementia has stolen the Mom I knew, but not the Mom I love. Even if she doesn’t know if we’re mother and daughter or sisters that day, she still knows that she loves me and I love her. As I stood at the stove on Mother’s Day I heard her come into the kitchen, and I turned to her, “Do you need something, Mommy?” She came to me and hugged me, her eyes welling up, said my name and “Thank you, thank you so much for…” then the strings of that emotional corset pulled so tight– I couldn’t breath for a moment, my throat threatened to lock and leave me unable to speak. I heard her murmur something about what I do for her and I managed to get out, “No, we do for each other, we always have.” She pulled back and she was smiling, “Yeah, we do, don’t we?” and then she wandered away.

And that hug, it was a gift, a beautiful gift to me. But what I wouldn’t give for just one more stink-eye from Mom over a bad gift.

May 15 2013

Around the Blogosphere

The main purpose our blogging is to communicate our ideas, opinions, and stories both fact and fiction. The best part about the the blogs is information that we might not find in our local news, even if we read it online. Sharing that information is important, especially if it educates, sparks conversation and new ideas. We have all found places that are our favorites that we read everyday, not everyone’s are the same. The Internet is a vast place. Unlike Punting the Pundits which focuses on opinion pieces mostly from the mainstream media and the larger news web sites, “Around the Blogosphere” will focus more on the medium to smaller blogs and articles written by some of the anonymous and not so anonymous writers and links to some of the smaller pieces that don’t make it to “Pundits” by Krugman, Baker, etc.

We encourage you to share your finds with us. It is important that we all stay as well informed as we can.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

This is an Open Thread.

There is something going on other that the “Three Gates.”

From our friends at Corrente, economics contributor, letsgetitdone:

and a note from lambert about the outage at FDL that has been off line since yesterday. We are keeping out fingers crossed that Jane gets her server issues resolved soon. You can follow Jane’s tweets here for the latest on the site.

At AMERICAblog, from John Aravosis:

(I know I said no “gates” but it’s John)

and from Gaius Publius:

David Dayen writing at New Republic, tells us how smarter shareholders are becoming activists and are about to claim their biggest “scalp”:

At his blog, Beat the Press, Dean Baker:

From CounterPunch:

From the gang at Crooks and Liars:

From the contributors at Grist:

Mike Konszal at The Next New Deal:

At New Economic Perspectives, Dan Kervick:

The last words from Charles P. Pierce on The Clan of the Red Beanie and Responsible Gun Ownership.