Nel's New Day

May 15, 2013

GOP Searches for Prey

The Komodo dragon is the biggest lizard in the world, about 10 feet long and weighing about 150 pounds. Their size puts them in control of their environment, ambushing their prey, although they tend to eat a great deal of carrion. Their teeth allow them to tear huge chunks of flesh, eating up to 80 percent of their weight in one meal. Dragons of equal size may wrestle, with the losers either retreating or getting killed and eaten by the victor. They also eat their young if the juveniles don’t hide in trees. These creatures have a great deal of trouble hearing and very bad night vision. In captivity, they almost never breed.

Watching the GOP party makes me think of the Komodo dragons, starting with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He’s on the road with his new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of 380 personal and professional rules. One of these  is “You never want a serious crisis [to] go to waste.”

About this rule, Rumsfeld said, “A crisis can permit you to do things you couldn’t absent an opportunity like that to change the nature of things.” That’s what the GOP party has done since Barack Obama became president, and right now they’re working even harder on it that usual.

Seemingly unable to cause a disaster with their Benghazi pseudo-investigation, they moved on to the latest controversies, the IRS targeting specific groups for additional investigation and the DoJ’s examination of Associated Press’s telephone logs.

Despite the president’s declaration that the IRS targeting these groups is “intolerable and inexcusable” and the IRS acting commissioner’s resigning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are out for blood. They are positive that the IRS has committed criminal acts and are calling for an investigation. McConnell’s approach is bearing fruit because the Tea Party has finally endorsed him as the GOP Senate candidate in 2014.

Their declarations have a few problems. First, the IRS targeted liberal groups as well as conservative ones for additional scrutiny. Conservatives may not realize this because USA Today didn’t mention this fact until the 18th paragraph of its article and then just a few words. But Emerge America was denied tax-exempt status and forced to disclose its donors and pay taxes. None of the GOP groups have complained about having their applications rejected. Progress Texas and Clean Elections Texas had the same kind of scrutiny. Subjected groups from all political spectra removes the onus from the IRS.

Nobody has even called the IRS efficient or competent so it shouldn’t come as a surprise now that it isn’t. Perhaps a permanent commissioner at the IRS agency would help. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in his “look-at-me-for-president” demeanor, called for the commissioner to be fired. In fact, there is currently no commissioner because Bush’s appointee—in charge while the Tea Party felt targeted—resigned last November, and the Senate, including Rubio, was clear that they wouldn’t approve any of the president’s nominations. It’s status quo for Senate approvals: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives hasn’t had a director since 2006 because of Senate refusal to act on nominees.

This is the first time that the IRS targetings have become a national scandal, but it isn’t the first time that they have done this targeting. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) found only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (NC), to join him in an investigation during the George W. Bush administration when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena after an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. At the same time conservative churches across the country were mobilizing voters to support Bush.

In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP because its chairman criticized Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. In 2006, Public Interest Watch, with 97 percent of its funding from Exxon Mobile, got the IRS to investigate Green Peace, who had labeled the oil company the “No. 1 Climate Criminal.” At about that time, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) wanted “legislative changes” to define the differences between politics and social welfare, but the Senate never got around to it, leaving the IRS auditors to make up their own rules.

The second problem is that decades of laws, regulations, and court decisions are vague and contradictory. The tax code requires that a 501(c)(4) must operate “exclusively” to promote social welfare, a category that excludes political spending. Some court decisions ruled that a minimal amount of political spending would be permissible, but the I.R.S. has for years maintained that groups meet that rule as long as they are not “primarily engaged” in election work, a substantially different threshold. Nobody knows what “primarily engaged” means.

Meanwhile huge SuperPACs are getting away with being tax-exempt while doing massive advertising campaigns. Crossroads has the tax-exempt status, claiming involvement primarily on research and educational activities, but spends most of its money on political advertising.  American Tradition Partnership doesn’t even bother to file federal tax returns.

The third problem, according to Lawrence O’Donnell, started with the Republicans in 1959 when the meaning of the section related to Section 501(c)(4) was changed from “exclusively” to “primarily.” Ezra Klein wrote in the Wonkblog, a great summary of the current IRS troubles:

“The IRS does need some kind of test that helps them weed out political organizations attempting to register as tax-exempt 501(c)4  social welfare groups. But that test has to be studiously, unquestionably neutral.”

O’Donnell said, “If in 2010, there was a flood of Tea Party applications for tax exempt status and many fewer applications for tax exempt status from liberal political groups, then it only makes mathematical sense that more questions would be directed at Tea Party applications.”

Yet the GOP is determined to pin the IRS problems on the president. Although he has no proof, Grassley said that the IRS was “getting pressure from somebody either high up in the Obama campaign or high up in the White House.” There’s nothing to support his position, but GOP love conspiracy theories.

While the GOP is up in arms about the IRS scandal, they have stayed quiet about the phone logs subpoenaed from Associated Press. Even critics of Attorney General Eric Holder like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) just say they’ll see “how this plays out.” Even the other Texas senator, Ted Cruz, is silent about it. There’s a good reason. Last year, Republicans called for an explanation of the national security leaks—in short, they asked for exactly what happened to AP. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) insisted on reporters being subpoenaed.

With their interest in subpoenaing the media, the GOP certainly won’t approve of the “reporter shield” bill that the Obama administration has requested Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to reintroduce. Such a law would help reporters protect the identity of their sources. Republicans killed similar bills in 2008 and 2010.

The situation can be summarized within the length of a tweet: “GOP calls on Holder to investigate leaks. Holder appoints US Attorney. US Att. subpoenas AP records. GOP calls on Holder to resign.” Steve Benen adds “that the U.S. attorney subpoenaed AP records thanks to an existing vulnerability the administration doesn’t support, but can’t fix thanks to Republican opposition.”

Even Bush’s former AG Albert Gonzalez, who couldn’t even find a law firm to hire him, entered the discussion. He cited a time when he decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes but skipped over his massive domestic wiretapping program and “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations”—a lot, according to the New York Times. 

Thus the GOP, feeding on carrion, are stuck with a non-existent Benghazi investigation, an IRS debacle coming from the GOP lack of ability to take action, and a press-government interaction that’s bound to make them look bad. We can guarantee, however, that they’ll continue to tear huge chunks out of the first two while ignoring the third one, that is a serious problem for continued democracy in the United States. And of course, the GOP won’t do anything about finding jobs for the people in the United States.

November 21, 2012

Peace, Economic Security a Little Closer

Today’s Best News:

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza after eight days of rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli air strikes left at least 100 Palestinians and three Israelis dead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to pursue a “comprehensive peace,” suggesting the Obama administration will rekindle two-state peace talks that have been frozen for the past three years over disagreements about Israeli settlements and future borders.

Occupy Wall Street (by now it seems to be Occupy the World) has come up with a great idea: the Rolling Jubilee project. When people can no longer pay their debts, individuals or companies can buy these debts at pennies on the dollar and then try to collect something from the people who owe money. Occupy has decided to buy these debts—and then forgive them. Even Forbes likes the idea. To test the idea, Occupy purchased $14,000 worth of outstanding loans for $500 and then pardoned the debtors. Now they are looking for donations to expand the project. Thus far they have managed to wipe out almost $10 million of debt for less than $50,000.

Occupy used Iceland for their model. After that country’s banks forgave loans equivalent to 13 percent of the GDP, Iceland’s consumer debt, its economy grew at 2.5 percent in this year’s first quarter. The result is expanded consumption, increased wages, improved standard of living, and no economic collapse. The banks’ action eased the debt burdens of over one-fourth of the country’s population.

Contrary to the beliefs of most conservatives, the U.S. “federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II,” according to Matt Yglesias. This year the $1.089 trillion deficit is $200 billion smaller than last year and almost $300 billion smaller than when Barack Obama became president. This is not necessarily good news for economists because such a fast reduction in the deficit could lead to a recession, but learning about it might shut up all those candidates who use the deficit to whip the president. This chart, showing the rise and fall of the deficit over the past 60 years also indicates that Democrats seem to do better than Republicans. It appears that the liberals always have to clean up after conservatives. At least the Republicans shouldn’t be able to destroy the decrease in the deficit during the next four years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last piece of good news for today is that people in the United States may become more educated. There was a time when progressives felt that Fox News had a permanent stranglehold on the country’s population. Study after study showed that people watching Fox were more ignorant of political facts than those who didn’t follow any news, but the number of watchers kept growing. There’s a chance that Fox’s popularity is winding down. During the eight days after President Obama’s re-election, MSNBC’s average audience for the key 25-54 year old demographic drew about 8% more viewers than Fox, according the Nielsen ratings.

Two programs were at the top of the MSNBC lineup. Rachel Maddow won seven of the eight days against her Fox competition, Sean Hannity, beating him by an average 18 percent, and her 544k average was second to only Bill O’Reilly in all of cable news. Lawrence O’Donnell won all eight days against Fox’s Greta Van Susteren with a margin of victory of 17% for the eight days. Hannity, perhaps the most strident partisan host on Fox, frequently invites on his show Dick Morris, the man who loudly claimed the errors of polls indicating the president’s defeating Romney. Van Susteren has a close association with friend and client of her husband, Sarah Palin. The question is whether Fox will become more reasonable to keep an audience or ramp up the rhetoric of hatred and fear.

I’m guessing that the majority of conservatives had no idea how many lies the Republican candidates, led by the master of mendacity Mitt Romney, told them in expensive advertising. If the trend of watching MSNBC continues, the voters in the next election will be more aware of facts rather than Fox pundits’ impassioned attempts to sway the voters’ opinions through the largest collection of lies in any general election campaign since the invention of television.

In the election that seems so long ago but was decided only 15 days in the past, the majority of people voted for Democrats both in Congress and in the presidency. This happened despite the Republicans’ attempt to weed out Democratic voters across the country. Republicans need candidates who can win on their own merits, not through lying to voters and suppressing the votes. Maybe they will learn this.

 

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