And look what happens.
To all my loyal readers reader, my sincerest apologies for having gone all Rip Van Winkle on this venture for the better part of three months. I can’t even correctly recall precisely why it was that I went quiet, back then. I do know that for the better part of two full months I was at general quarters, getting ready for a jury trial that got postponed a week before it was supposed to kick off. In any event, the sensation of having abandoned something one set out to do is merited and oppressive.
And what a three months it’s been. We’re still no closer to finding out why the administration left four Americans, including its ambassador, to be slaughtered. We know that someone senior in the picture actively got involved in lying to the American public about the incident, for weeks on end. We know that the one person in the whole show who could have credibly shifted America’s focus onto what happened – Genl Petraeus – just happened to have made himself extremely vulnerable to blackmail at that time, and that he, though having earned a reputation for speaking his mind irrespective of the politics of the moment, strangely went along with the deception. If the inference is warranted that he remained silent, knowing that the administration was intentionally peddling a bogus version of what happened that night, in the hopes of saving his own hide, then (a) what a rube, and (b) he no more than fell afoul of one of the oldest saws out there: Never give a sucker an even break. You’d think that someone who’s navigated the (literally) cut-throat morass of Iraq would have understood that someone like Dear Leader simply doesn’t keep promises, especially not to people whose existence has become inconvenient. Let us recall what one of Dear Leader’s heroes, known for at least some period at the Great Helmsman, observed about mean who were problems: Get rid of the man, get rid of the problem. Once Dear Leader was safely re-elected (with the vigorous assistance of the Internal Revenue Service), the general was expendable. And he was expended.
The now-former Sec’y of State has appeared before the Congress, and in response to the pointed question of who commanded the lie be told, shot back, “What difference does it make at this point?” By saying which she actually answered several questions all at once, viz. (i) I know who gave the order. (ii) I’m not going to say because I still need this person’s assistance in achieving my ambitions for the future. (iii) All that business about “executive over-reach” I was spouting during the eight years of Bush’s presidency was just a load of nonsense to look good in newsprint.
I’m an ol’ sailor, and in inshore piloting, if you can get two intersecting lines of bearing, then you know where you are, because there’s only one point on the surface of the globe that simultaneously satisfies the conditions of bearing 217 degrees from Point A and 104.5 degrees from Point B. So let’s focus on which universe of people could conceivably satisfy both conditions of (i) being in a position to give the order, and (ii) being someone necessary to Hillary’s ambitions. Looked at that way, it’s a pretty small universe, isn’t it?
Then we’re treated to a look inside the IRS. It turns out that a large part of why the Tea Party movement, which so thoroughly ran the table in 2010, was so oddly quiescent in 2012 was because their grass-roots organizations (and they’re all grass-roots in that movement; there simply isn’t such an outfit as The Tea Party) couldn’t raise money. Well why ever not? It seems that as folks began to study on the practicalities of formal political action, they realized they needed some degree of personal liability protection. They also needed a tax-exempt letter from the IRS. Now here’s something that the uninitiated sometimes don’t always realize right off the bat: It doesn’t matter what sort of an organization you are, or what your mission is, or what you do or don’t do; you’re not an exempt organization until the IRS determines that you are an exempt organization and tells you so much in writing. So what happened to the applications for tax-exempt status? Well, they were referred to a special group of people, who were given very specific instructions on how to see to it that these organizations got the Full Treatment. At first they were told to look for groups with “patriot” or “tea party” in their names. That dragnet was both too blatant and too porous for the administration’s purposes, so after a little while the focus was watered down to groups which stated that their goal was arguing for smaller, less intrusive, less expensive government.
Groups caught up in it got swamped with hundred of questions, all the way from demanding to know who their donors were (and as it later turns out, the donors disclosed were then the subject of bogus gift tax “audits,” trying to levy gift taxes on the contributions made to the victim organizations), demanding to know who attended their meetings, what was said at the meetings, for groups with an overtly religious cast, what were the contents of their members prayers, and on and on and on. Hundreds and in some cases thousands of pages of documentation and answers were to be provided. Each round just brought more bullshit questions, and when the questions stopped, the applications disappeared into a black hole. No action one way or the other. Very clever, that: If the IRS had denied the application the organizations could have brought suit in federal court to challenge the denial, but without a denial. For months and in some cases years (some of the groups still don’t have a decision on way or the other) the IRS strung them out, and during all that time their ability to raise money was minimal.
But it didn’t stop with the IRS. Prominent activists (like the husband and wife who, having observed massive voter fraud in Houston, organized a group – True the Vote – to monitor and document the abuse, and then of course eventually to fight back against it) suddenly found themselves subject to the interest of multiple federal agencies who for years had shown zero curiosity about them or their businesses. The True the Vote folks found themselves the subject of a surprise inspection by OSHA and not one but two audits by the ATF, as well as tax audits of their business and themselves personally.
And so the Tea Party financial apparatus was crippled during the two years before the election. Every public statement thus far made about the genesis and supervision of the persecution has proven to be false, usually demonstrably so. There was a sudden surge in applications under Section 501(c)(4) in 2010? Uh, no. Leftist groups were the subject of identical treatment? Nope, not a one has come forward or been identified. Just a bunch of rogue agents in the Cincinnati office? Not true either; the program was from the very beginning known to and the subject of orchestration by senior IRS officials. Nobody in a position of authority knew about it? Try again; no less than the IRS senior counsel personally knew what was going on.
What’s interesting is that the story was self-reported – kinda sorta – by a question planted at a news conference. The IRS apparatchik giving the conference, Lois Lerner (about whom more in a bit), arranged for a lawyer/lobbyist to ask a specific question about a forthcoming IRS Inspector General report on the fiasco. It was at that conference that ol’ Lois first tried out the “few rogue agents” bullshit. But that’s not the most interesting aspect of the case. The IG’s report was the report of an audit, which is nothing more than exactly that: The IG’s folks ask questions but have no compulsory power. If the audit discovers evidence of wrong-doing, the next step is an actual investigation, in which the IG does have compulsory powers, can put people under oath, and can generally crack heads. The IG audit report in question makes some very specific findings of misconduct, some of which may even be criminal in nature. But an investigation was never begun. It stopped with an audit. Gerald Walpin, the (former) IG of the a federal agency who got himself fired when he refused to back down on a $750,000 theft of government money – by a prominent supporter and donor of Dear Leader, but Gentle Reader knew that without asking – has an interesting and under all the history of this administration compelling theory that the omission was entirely predictable. He recites a litany of IGs who made the mistake of pushing too hard on issues of concern to the administration, and who paid for it with their jobs.
The DoJ has been busted for monitoring the communications of a host of Associated Press reporters, including their communications from within the Capitol itself, specifically the House Cloak Room. Those reporters of course got off comparatively lightly, as far as intrusiveness goes. A Fox News reporter (will coincidences never cease?!?) not only has all his personal communications monitored, but even his mother gets the same treatment. That of course required warrants, and to get it the Attorney General of the United States lied to a federal judge. The affidavit (sworn, dontcha know) alleged that the reporter in question was potentially a defendant co-conspirator in an act of criminal espionage. Later, the same AG stands in front of Congress and allows that he had “no involvement” in obtaining the warrant. Then it comes out that he’d given his personal approval to the affidavit seeking the warrant. All this raises the interesting philosophical point of whether it’s more permissible to lie under oath to Congress or to a federal judge in order to take a mighty chop at the tree of a free press.
Well, those nasty, eeeevillll, violent Tea Partiers just asked for it, after all (no, seriously: we had a Congressmember say that in public), and that uppity Fox News feller should have expected as much, working for Satan himself. In plain English, they’re Other People. If we just keep our heads down, don’t question the government, we’ll be OK, won’t we? Won’t we? Ehhhhh . . . maybe not. We now discover a bit more of the true extent to which The Man has been watching us for years now. Every call we make, every e-mail we send has its metadata sent to and stored by the National Security Administration. The current program traces back to a Bush-era program in which the initial aim was to monitor communications crossing U.S. borders (don’t need a warrant to snoop on international communications). I admit I’m a bit sketchy on the full and technical details of what’s out there thus far, but at some point the program morphed into capturing the originating and recipient phone numbers of all telephone calls. The likely scope of what’s being hoovered (that’s actually an insider’s expression and refers not to the household appliance company but to the former FBI director) is of course much, much greater.
In light of the revelations, we see the inevitable and utterly predictable blow-back from this all: International users of the communications systems are going to avoid U.S. providers, U.S. hardware companies (how can they be sure that the snooping software isn’t hard-wired into it, after all?), and we have to presume U.S. trading partners if possible. I mean, if they can pull that information from your computer when you send an e-mail, how difficult would it be to plant something on your computer in the first place? Stuxnet, anyone (which Dear Leader bragged – publicly – that the U.S. had placed on Iran’s nuclear weapons equipment)?
The justification for this degree of surveillance is that it’s necessary to protect us from terrorism. Well, that’s reassuring, isn’t it? It’s indispensable that the federal government know every website I visit so that it can ignore not one, not two, but three specific warnings about specific individuals – the brethren Tsarnaev – given to it by two completely independent countries’ intelligence agencies. They have to know every time I fire up the ol’ Samsung because it would be just way too much trouble to infiltrate and monitor mosques, even mosques known to be recruiting centers for home-grown jihadists. The NSA has to analyze what it means – if anything – each time I send an e-mail to a particular address because if it didn’t, they would have to do complicated shit like follow up on Facebook postings by people that foreign governments have specifically warned us are radicalized, actively engaged with known terrorist organizations and agents, and are planning active operations in the U.S.
All this and more over the dam since I went cold, dark, and quiet. I confess I’m still not completely satisfied in my mind which of the revelations I find the most egregious. Of all of them I’m least exercised by the reporters’ laments. I’m not a scholar of the First Amendment – I can’t really say I’m much of a scholar of anything, come to think of it – but while there is something to be said in favor of the proposition that press freedom is a limiting factor on the government’s ability to impose penalties on the press for dissemination of sensitive data, in point of fact it can’t be a secret to any reporter whose beat includes the hush-hush parts of Uncle Sugar’s House of Nuts that a good deal of what his usual sources tell him they’re breaking the law if they tell him.
The specific revelation that got the Fox News dude in hot water was the tip that North Korea was expected to respond to particular sanctions by staging another nuclear test. It seems that information could only have come from sources very high within the North Korean regime, and the news story pretty much clued whichever Kim is this generation’s lunatic in to the fact that we had a source that high up. Depending on how that information was known within that regime, whoever our source was/is may well be on his way to a one-night stand in front of a wall in an execution cell somewhere. If he’s not been sent on his way already. So to pretend that this is a First Amendment issue pure and simple is not honest. I mean, let’s just say that Movietone decided to run a story on when Operation Overlord was set to go. Or if the BBC had run a story that Case Yellow – the invasion of France and the Low Countries – was set for early May, 1940. Would we object, per sé, to a warrant issuing on the people known or believed to have been involved in the security breach?
The NSA story I find more unsettling, because the federal government has chosen to spy on me in lieu of more specific, less intrusive methods of guarding me from the folks out there who are known to exist. As hinted at above, until 2011 the FBI had an active program in place to infiltrate mosques, especially and specifically mosques whose congregants or clergy were known to have or reasonably suspected to have ties to terrorist organizations. We apparently monitored pretty closely what they did. That program was discontinued at the behest of CAIR – the Council on American Islamic Relations – an organization that if memory serves was itself an unindicted co-conspirator in several criminal terrorism prosecutions. Successful prosecutions. The revelations about what we knew about the Tsarnaev brothers, and when, illustrate the point even better. The Russian security agency warned us about the elder brother not once but twice. The Saudi intelligence boys also (according to a report in Mail Online; alas you have to read the foreign press to get a clear picture of what’s happening on this side of the ocean) gave not only the U.S. but also the British specific intelligence about Brer Tsarnaev’s activities and his intentions. The brilliant boys at the FBI and the CIA took those reports and did . . . nothing. They certainly didn’t share them with the old-fashioned gum-shoes in the Boston P.D., who might have put a tail on them. It wasn’t like the brothers were being secretive about any of their thoughts or actions, either. They put them right out there on Facebook. In summary, with this NSA operation the government has opted to go in for domestic spying – on me – on an historically unprecedented scale, with only theoretical likelihood of actually catching a bad guy in time, and at a time when it either refuses outright to engage in ordinary municipal police department quality investigation of known threats, or can’t be bothered to do the job properly when it does so bestir itself. It would be like a football team spending all of its practice time and budget on trick plays, rather than blocking drills, running pass patterns, and tip drills. Harlem Globetrotter stuff instead of practicing free throws and breaking a full-court press.
The Benghazi fiasco outrages me, but more not on a fundamental level. Administrations have always tried to suppress bad news and blunders. The worse the blunder the more energy they’ve spent on hiding the truth. It’s what administrations do, and while I fully see the wickedness and cynicism of our betraying those Americans in that hell-hole that we helped create – that Dear Leader illegally helped create – it doesn’t strike me as something that endangers our American Experiment.
The IRS abuses, however, are what make all the other scandals intolerable. The IRS is the one agency which touches almost every last American. If you’re sixteen and have a summer job, the payroll taxes withheld from your paycheck flow through the IRS. If you’re a single parent with a ninth-grade education and you’re trying desperately not to slip into perpetual welfare dependency, the EITC advance refund you get is processed by the IRS. If you’re a tobacco farmer the excise taxes paid on the end-product of your fields is enforced by the IRS. And of course if you’re part of that only slightly-more-than-half of the American adult population that pays federal income taxes, what the IRS does and how it does it shapes whether you have a job, what kind of a career path or pay curve you have within that job, and of course how much you bring home each pay period. With the enactment of the ACA – it bothers me to hear it called “Obamacare” because in fact Dear Leader was strangely uninvolved with its drafting; if anything it ought to be called “Pelosicare” or “Baucuscare” – the IRS will be in charge of determining what kind of health insurance you can buy, from whom, and at what price.
We see now laid bare that the IRS views itself as being the enforcement arm of a particular political party and movement. While it was holding up, in many cases for months and years, the 501(c)(4) applications of the sundry conservative organizations, hamstringing their ability to raise money to pursue their goals, the lefty organizations’ applications sailed on through with minimal fuss. Lois Lerner (q.v.) was among the guiding lights of the plan, and here it’s not unimportant to note that this was not her first rodeo. She used to be counsel for the Federal Election Commission’s enforcement division. Back in 1996 a young Republican challenged an Illinois Democrat in a Congressional race (I’m thinking it was Dick Durbin, but I could be wrong). About a month before the election he mysteriously got popped with a full-bore FEC investigation. It cost him nearly $100,000 and it was eventually determined entirely in his favor. But around the time it was launched, he got a call from the FEC. “Promise me you’ll never run for office again and we’ll drop this case,” he was told by the FEC lawyer. His caller? One Lois Lerner. It was dear ol’ Lois again who required, as a condition for approving an anti-abortion group’s application for tax-exempt status, that its board members promise never to picket a Planned Parenthood office.
Several former IRS employees have made the point that what happened to these conservative groups was so far outside the boundaries of what is known to be permissible behavior within the IRS (like leaking the donors of groups who had applications still pending, an offense for which the penalty is criminal), and the penalties for it so draconian (at least if you’re a peon, as was the case with the Cincinnati office staffers; if you’re Lois Lerner or the senior counsel who were pulling the strings your stakes are entirely different), that there is simply no way in heaven or hell these things would have been done without very specific instruction from very highly placed people in the central IRS command structure.
When called on the carpet before Congress dear Lois put on hauteur which would have made Marie Antoinette proud. The elected representatives of the American people were no more than canaille, Pöbel, villeins (I note here that within the past few days we observed the anniversary of Wat Tyler’s un-doing: “Villeins ye are, and villeins ye shall remain,” spake Richard II to the assembled peasants, whereupon his men-at-arms made short work of them), narod. How dare you question one of the anointed? What she is asserting is neither more nor less than the right of the bureaucracy to do as it pleases, and be damned to any enactment of Congress. And to do it in the service of a partisan political goal.
Richard Nixon famously had his enemies list, and he equally famously used, or attempted to use, the IRS to go after them. Much, in fact, in the manner that LBJ had used the same agency to go after Richard Nixon. And much in the manner that FDR had instructed the IRS, including its chief prosecutor, one Robert Jackson, to bring and prosecute criminal charges against Andrew Mellon, a former Secretary of the Treasury, for actions which Jackson informed Roosevelt were perfectly legal. But prosecute he did. Jackson, whom I used to admire before I read that little story (it’s one of the inter-twined plots in The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes, a marvelous book), and who ought to have been disbarred for what he did, instead was rewarded with a seat on the Supreme Court, from which post he took a leave of absence to go hang Nazis in Nuremberg. Go figure.
Today’s IRS scandal is more unsettling because its actions were directed not at discrete individuals or organizations but at an entire swathe of the political spectrum. More to the point, the mechanism of the attack was a frontal assault on the practical ability of these groups to engage in political speech, which is the whole point of that part of the First Amendment. I mean, we don’t have a First Amendment so that people can dunk images of Jesus Christ in urine. We have a First Amendment so we can have True the Vote. The left has always been jealous of its hold on people like Geo. Soros and organizations like the New York Times. The Citizens United case blew a hole in that monopoly. If you can’t un-do that decision, you can at least turn it into a one-sided proposition. Despite the efforts of clowns like that feller from Minnesota (whose election victory bore unmistakable signs of pretty pervasive voter fraud), no one on the left seriously wants to toss a spanner into the ability of Comrade Soros and his like to pour millions of dollars onto the political scales. But what would make it even better is if you can intercept those unwashed bitter clingers from fly-over country in their efforts to take their $50 and $100 donations and get to what Geo. Soros can peel off his hip on any Saturday afternoon.
In a wonderful movie, The Lives of Others, there’s a scene where the Stasi has just finished bugging the playwright’s apartment. The team’s leaving, and as the colonel is very carefully locking the door, the opposite door on the same floor’s landing opens behind him. A woman is standing there. The colonel turns and asks her if she’d like her son’s education to continue uninterrupted (and of course the colonel knows where and what he’s studying). He gives her to understand, in precisely so many words, that if she expects him to be permitted to carry on his education, she will forget everything she might have just seen or heard.
When trying to prevent voter fraud gets you repeated visits from not only the IRS but also the ATF and OSHA, when not only your political activities but your business livelihood is targeted, then folks, we’re at precisely the same point as depicted in that movie.
Just imagine how delightful it will be when the same agency that came after the would-be conservative 501(c)(4) groups has access to all of your healthcare information. Do you really want to run that advertising campaign against Senator Dipstick? Just how badly does your brother need that lung transplant? You know, Mr. and Mrs. Murgatroyd, there are only so many experts in treating children with autism spectrum disorders. Not just everyone can be accommodated. Are you really that interested in the voter rolls of Dade County?
So I think that, in the balance, it’s the IRS story that’s the one which genuinely has the potential to destroy what America was supposed to be about, when the committee of the Continental Congress (and oddly enough, in the past few days we observed the anniversary of that committee’s formation) was tasked to draft a declaration relative to the political relationship between the thirteen colonies and the British crown.
What a three months it’s been.