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“Stalag America”: John Boehner Wants Someone Jailed Despite No Evidence Of An Actual Crime

Given the recent trifecta of what has,to date, added up to mostly false but politically effective allegations of scandal involving Benghazi, the IRS and the Department of Justice, transparency within the walls of the Obama White House has very much come into question.

But when it comes to the GOP leadership in Congress, there can be no such question of transparency as their behavior could not be any more open or obvious.

Indeed, the Congressional Republicans have been crystal clear in revealing that they could not care less about getting to the real truth of any of the upsetting issues now before the American public, just as they have no interest in focusing on these events for the purpose of making government better for the American people.  Their concern is clearly, openly and unabashedly focused on the political opportunities they perceive to be available to them now that they’ve been able to successfully focus the public’s attention on these alleged scandals and away from critical issues of substance.

The problem is that the all too transparent political goals of these people have the unfortunate byproduct of shining a light on the stunning degree of hypocrisy being practiced by these so called leaders. Should you require quantifiable proof of this, I offer up Speaker John Boehner’s comments of this morning as Exhibit A.

While speaking to the press about the IRS matter, Mr. Boehner bellowed,  “My question isn’t about who is going to resign. My question is whose going to jail over this scandal?” The Speaker then bounded from the stage leaving his words to hang in the air.

Ah…the drama….the intrigue…the utter and complete disregard for the American justice system spat from the lips of the most powerful man in the United States Congress.

While the Speaker demands to know who is going to jail over the IRS fiasco, the rest of us are, apparently, falling behind as we are still trying to find out what—if any—criminal laws have been violated. You see, Mr. Speaker, in this country one is supposedly required to be convicted of actually violating a criminal law before prison time is to be handed out as punishment—even when this rather fundamental rule of law proves to be an inconvenient impediment to your fundraising activities.

If Boehner has the answer to the somewhat relevant question of whether or not the behavior at the IRS jumped the line between really bad judgment and highly inappropriate behavior into the sphere of criminality, he elected not to share the specifics with us during this morning’s press conference. That was an unfortunate choice as the federal government is about to spend a whole bunch of taxpayer money to ascertain if there was any actionable criminal activity.

If Speaker Boehner has already conducted the investigation and concluded that somebody (we don’t know who) needs to get put in prison, he might consider sharing his findings with the FBI. And if Mr. Boehner has not conducted such an investigation, maybe he could see the benefit of at least pretending to honor the American justice system and keep his lust for incarceration to himself until we know if there is actually a crime.

Most of us will agree that there was clearly wrongdoing in the ranks of the IRS in how they improperly targeted applicants seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. For anyone who may be struggling to accept this, I would suggest reading the Inspector General’s report of what occurred which is now available for your full review.

While the IG account points to serious managerial errors and confused employees over at the IRS, nowhere in the report do we find any allegation of criminal behavior —just as we see that the IG could find no evidence that anyone from outside the agency (translation: the White House) was involved.

This is not to say that there was no criminal behavior.

It is to say that, at this point, while the Inspector General was able to uncover the instances of improper behavior that clearly reveals a serious problem, no criminal activity has yet to be alleged.

Still, given the gravity of the infractions, the Attorney General has ordered the FBI to investigate the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether there was, in fact, a criminal violation of the law. But as this investigation has likely not yet even begun (it was just announced this morning), one struggles to work out how Speaker Boehner has managed to conclude that someone needs to go to jail.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that Boehner has no real grasp of one of the most fundamental principles of American law—that would be the one that requires that those suspected of criminal activity must be charged with a specific violation, tried and proven guilty before we begin clamoring for jail time.

I say I shouldn’t be surprised because this is a Speaker very well versed in blocking the passage of laws but not particularly knowledgeable in the procedures involved in actually making law—a process that would require him to actually understand the law.

This is a Speaker who cares deeply about making dramatic pronouncements—such as what he shared with the nation this morning—in the hope that his declarations will inspire his political base to make large contributions. If clamoring for someone to go to jail—despite any evidence of criminal activity—is what it takes to bring in the big bucks, the notion that we might hope for a more measured and informed tone from so powerful an elected official is a detail that is, apparently, to be ignored and discarded.

At this moment, I am reminded of something disgraced Congressman Bob Ney wrote in his book, “Sideswiped—Lessons Learned Courtesy Of The Hit Men Of Capital Hill.” For anyone who may not recall, Mr. Ney was one of the Members of Congress swept up in the Jack Abramoff scandal and convicted on corruption charges. Given Ney’s history as a convicted felon, I will leave it to the reader to determine how much credibility to give him when reading what he had to say about Speaker Boehner.

What Ney tells us in his book is that Boehner has always been far more concerned with fundraising and having fun than he was with doing the business of the people.

Many felt his money-raising focus would make up for his lack of concern about legislation — he was considered a man who was all about winning and money…He was a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker who was more interested in the high life — golf, women, cigarettes, fun, and alcohol.”

As The Washington Posts further reports:

“Ney goes on to say that Boehner was lazy, took thousands of dollars in booze, food and golf games from lobbyists, and repeatedly slid around ethics rules: “John got away with more than any other member on the Hill” because he was well-liked and well-protected by his staff.”

While it is fair to consider Mr. Ney’s own criminal history when weighing the value of this information, it all sounds about right to me.

Still, what Mr. Ney does not address is Speaker Boehner’s obvious disregard for avoiding the transparency of his own disturbing brand of hypocrisy.

In 2004, Julian Bond—then President of the NAACP—gave a speech that, according to the IRS letter received by Mr. Bond in October of that year, included “statements in opposition of George W. Bush for the office of presidency.” The letter also stated that Bond had “condemned the administration politics of George W. Bush in education, the economy and the war in Iraq.”

Because of Mr. Bond’s speech, the IRS informed him that they were reviewing the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status awarded to the NAACP.

Note that Mr. Bond never told his audience who to vote for in the presidential election nor, for that matter, did he support or oppose any candidate running in any election. Indeed, his statements were quite tame by any comparison to the pronouncements emanating from Karl Rove’s Crossroads USA 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations not only on a regular basis but more specifically during the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Bond had this to say at the time his organization was targeted by the IRS:

“It’s Orwellian to believe that criticism of the president is not allowed or that the president is somehow immune from criticism.”

And yet, the IRS proceeded to run the NAACP through the mill, claiming at every turn that it’s investigation was, in no way, politically motivated.

In the end, the NAACP retained their tax-exempt status.

In light of Speaker Boehner’s indignation aimed at the current IRS issue, how does one avoid asking how we missed Mr. Boehner’s demands for jail time when the NAACP was the target of an improper IRS investigation during the Bush term of office?

I would agree completely with the Speaker that any criminal activity discovered in the investigation that is soon to get underway should be resolved with charges and, if appropriate, the punishment Mr. Boehner so fervently seeks. But how does Boehner have the nerve to call for jail time based on his assumption that somebody somewhere must have done something criminal when he didn’t offer so much as a peep when workers at the IRS engaged in similar—if not identical—behavior in 2004 when a Republican sat in the White House?

I would remind Speaker Boehner that Americans are not stupid. If someone has engaged in a criminal act, we will demand justice. But we do not go around clamoring for jail time for a crime that even you, Speaker Boehner, have yet to determine has taken place.

I would also remind the Speaker that the copy of the Constitution he pretends to carry with him at all times is really quite clear on this point.

You should actually try reading that copy of the Constitution, Mr. Speaker, rather than simply pledging your fealty to the Founder’s expression when it suits you only to reject it when it becomes inconvenient. I think we’d all be considerably better off if you actually understood just how incredibly inappropriate it is to demand jail time where no criminality has been revealed before storming off the stage to create the maximum dramatic effect.

Of course, I do recognize that it is difficult for you to find the time for this what with the volumes of fundraising letters you will be signing in order to fully capitalize on your highly offensive and irresponsible behavior.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 15, 2013

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Incredible Shrinking Issue”: Lack Of Jobs, Not The Deficit, Is The Actual Scandal That Congress Should Be Trying To Grapple

Republicans gleeful over the recent slew of scandals afflicting the Obama administration – some imagined and some worthy of the name – should be thanking their lucky stars that they have new issues to wield as political cudgels. After all, their favorite of the last few years, the federal deficit, is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

The Congressional Budget Office – Washington’s nonpartisan number crunchers – released new projections Tuesday showing that the deficit will fall to $642 billion this fiscal year, a 24 percent drop in its projection from just a few months ago. The improvement is primarily due to increasing revenue and fewer expected outlays to government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

If this holds, it will be the smallest the deficit has been since President Barack Obama took office. As a percentage of the economy, the deficit will have been cut by more than half over Obama’s first five years, from 10.1 percent in 2009 to 4 percent in 2013.

And the incredible shrinking deficit doesn’t stop there, falling to 2.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2015, which, as the New York Times David Leonhardt noted, is “a level many economists consider healthy.” (For comparison’s sake, the much-ballyhooed Simpson-Bowles budget plan called for a deficit in 2015 of 2.3 percent of GDP.)  It’s also worth noting that the CBO assumes perpetual levels of both war spending in Afghanistan and aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, so the projections for future years will certainly be lower than they appear now.

This report is one more piece of evidence showing that the economic discussion that has gripped Washington recently is absurdly backwards. The short-term deficit is barely a problem, while the long-term issue for the nation’s finances remains, as everyone has known for years, spiraling health care costs (but there’s reason to believe they are also coming down).

What the dropping deficit has not done is spark the sort of economic growth or job creation that will bring down America’s still-too-high unemployment rate; lack of jobs, not the deficit, is the actual crisis with which Congress should be trying to grapple. In fact, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Jared Bernstein notes, the deficit is coming down too fast considering the country’s current economic doldrums:

The deficit is falling quickly when it shouldn’t be and rising later when it shouldn’t be.

Certainly, if facts drove the day, this update would be a fire hose for the hair-on-fire austerity crowd re: the near-term deficit.  The patient is checking out of the hospital while Drs Cantor, Ryan, and McConnell are still preparing for major surgery.

Considering that Republicans on the House Budget Committee claim that the CBO report “provided a fresh reminder of Washington’s out-of-control spending,” chances seem slim that those pushing austerity will change their tune anytime soon.  So perhaps the silver lining in lawmakers focusing on what they see as today’s hottest “scandal-gate” is that it will distract them from doing any more to undermine the economic recovery or to cut a deficit that doesn’t need to be cut anymore.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, May 14, 2013

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Deficits, Jobs | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hidden In The Footnotes”: IRS Cases Included Organizations Of All Political Views

USA Today had an item today on the IRS controversy, which seemed to reinforce much of what we already know: conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status faced unfair and unreasonable scrutiny. But deep in the article, in the 18th paragraph, USA Today added seven unexpected words: “Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny.”

They did? Actually, yes.

The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.

In fact, it’s worth emphasizing that the IRS, which has acknowledged making mistakes in this area and offered an awkward apology for agency missteps, noted yesterday that the “organizations of all political views” were affected by the scrutiny.

This certainly seems relevant to the larger controversy, doesn’t it? Up until now, the story has been pretty straightforward: conservative groups were subjected to unfair treatment when applying for tax-exempt 501(c)4 status. The IRS must remain politically neutral at all times and the right was fully justified in complaining that the agency fell far short of this standard.

But if several liberal groups were subjected to the same treatment, it reinforces a larger, less-partisan arc to the story: the IRS struggled to enforce ambiguous tax laws and was beset by bureaucratic bungling. The ratios certainly matter — if only a handful of left-leaning groups faced tough scrutiny, while right-wing leaning groups fared far worse, that would point to a more systemic problem — but we don’t yet know that for sure.

It would appear, then, that what’s needed is a detailed accounting. The inspector general’s report filled in many of the blanks, and I suspect we’ll get a more thorough examination with the FBI looking into the case and congressional hearings on the way.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Focusing On The Wrong People”: The Real IRS Scandal Is Secret Money Influencing US Elections

The IRS is under siege for investigating conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status. But the real problem wasn’t that the IRS was too aggressive. It was that the agency focused on the wrong people—“none of those groups were big spenders on political advertising; most were local Tea Party organizations with shoestring budgets,” writes The New York Times—and wasn’t aggressive enough. The outrage that Washington should be talking about—what my colleague Chris Hayes calls “the scandal behind the scandal”—is how the Citizens United decision has unleashed a flood of secret spending in US elections that the IRS and other regulatory agencies in Washington, like the Federal Election Commission, have been unwilling or unable to stem.

501c4 “social welfare” groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform—which don’t have to disclose their donors—spent more than $250 million during the last election. “Of outside spending reported to the FEC, 31 percent was ‘secret spending,’ coming from organizations that are not required to disclose the original sources of their funds,” writes Demos. “Further analysis shows that dark money groups accounted for 58 percent of funds spent by outside groups on presidential television ads [$328 million in total].”

IRS guidelines for 501c4 groups state that “the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office…a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.” It’s ludicrous for groups like Crossroads GPS—which spent at least $70 million during the last election—to claim that its primary purpose is not political activity. Only the likes of Karl Rove would believe that running attack ads against President Obama qualifies as social welfare.

So what did the IRS do about this blatant abuse of the tax code by some of the country’s top corporations and richest individuals? Virtually nothing. “When it comes to political spending, the IRS is more like a toothless tiger,” wrote Ken Vogel and Tarini Parti last year in a story headlined, “The IRS’s ‘feeble’ grip on big political cash.”

It’s obvious that our Wild West campaign-finance system needs more, not less, scrutiny and much tighter, not looser, regulation. Yet conservative groups are exploiting the IRS scandal to further dilute regulatory agencies that are already on life support. Writes Andy Kroll of Mother Jones:

The IRS’s tea party scandal, however, could hinder the agency’s willingness to ensure politically active nonprofits obey the law. The IRS will likely operate on this front with even more caution, taking pains not to appear biased or too aggressive. That in turn could cause the agency to shy away from uncovering 501(c)(4) organizations that do in fact abuse their tax-exempt status by focusing primarily on politics.

The Rove’s of the world would like nothing more than for the public to believe that conservative groups had too few opportunities to influence the 2012 election and were wrongly persecuted by evil Washington bureaucrats. Yet the 2012 election should have taught us precisely the opposite lesson—that our patchwork regulatory system is far from equipped to deal with the new Gilded Age unleashed by Citizens United. As Rep. Keith Ellison told Hayes last night: “We need to redouble our efforts to bring real campaign-finance reform forward.”

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, May 14, 2013

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bystander Speaker”: If John Boehner Were A Woman, They’d Be Calling Him The Weakest Speaker In History

Watching House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) make strange comments this morning about the IRS controversy reminded me of something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Chris Hayes the other day about the Speaker: “If he were a woman, they’d be calling him the weakest speaker in history.” Asked why, Pelosi added, “Because nothing’s getting done.”

That’s true. We’ve talked on several occasions in recent years about a straightforward thesis: Speaker Boehner is bad at his job. In recent weeks, however, a related-but-different thesis has come into focus: Speaker Boehner is no longer really trying to do his job.

Ask Speaker John Boehner a question on a key issue these days, and you’re likely to get a variation of the same response: Talk to someone else.

The Speaker has maintained a lower-key presence in recent months, largely avoiding the spotlight and abandoning the deal-making ambitions of his first two years in office. Whether the matter is immigration, guns, budget talks or online sales taxes, Boehner (R-Ohio) routinely defers or deflects questions to committee leaders.

I’d add one addendum to that last part: ask Boehner about nearly any issue, and if he doesn’t refer questions to committee chairs, he’ll refer questions to the Senate.

I suppose, in fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not necessary to draw a value judgment here. Boehner seems to have deliberately abandoned any hope of leading, legislating, or even influencing the policymaking process, but that’s his right. Maybe he likes “leading from behind.” Perhaps he’s trying out a new model for the Speaker’s office — one in which the leader becomes the bystander, and the Speaker just waits to see how events unfold around him.

Regardless, “worried Republicans” told BuzzFeed last week that Boehner “seems to be missing in action from messaging and legislative battles.”

That’s partly due to Boehner’s inability to lead, and partly due to the fact that House Republicans are deeply divided among themselves. But whatever the cause, Pelosi’s assessment seems more than fair.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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