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“Resonance Resistant”: Republicans Racing Off The Cliff In Their Supercharged Outrage Machine

Whether one thinks the demiscandals being howled about in Washington should or should not resonate more widely, they don’t.

According to a Gallup report released Thursday, “The amount of attention Americans are paying to the I.R.S. and the Benghazi situations is well below the average for news stories Gallup has tracked over the years.” (The Associated Press phone records case wasn’t mentioned.) Why might this be? I have a few theories:

CREDIBILITY People know that the Internal Revenue Service is the conservatives’ bogeyman. It’s the agency that collects the taxes that Republicans hate so much. Some Americans see taxes as, at worst, a necessary nuisance; Republicans see them as an absolute evil. The I.R.S. is the agency that collects the wealth from “us” for the government to redistribute to “them.” As National Journal pointed out Friday, “The agency also implements much of the country’s social policy through the tax code.” We all know that anything with “social” in its name activates the conservative gag reflex.

And on the Associated Press front, it just doesn’t ring true to have Republicans standing up as defenders of the “lame-stream media.” It’s like the person with the club feigning common cause with the baby seal. People just don’t buy it.

Furthermore, Republicans have exhibited a near-pathological need to say anything, no matter how outlandish, that would invalidate the Obama presidency. This has left them with little credibility now that there may be legitimate problems. This is the story of the political party that cried “Kenyan.”

COMPLEXITY Where is Benghazi? Seriously, folks, quickly point it out on a map. Thought so. Now, to the controversy: the talking points — what they said, and the machination of how that was altered, and whether Al Qaeda should have been immediately blamed, and whether the word “terror” should have had an “-ist” or an “-ism.” Seeking to find the killers of four dead Americans is honorable; endless testimony about a fussed-over script used to explain the tragedy is mind-numbing.

UNPOPULARITY It is clear that the Justice Department overreached on the Associated Press scandal and that its strong-arm tactics are likely to have a chilling effect. But Americans are not big fans of mass media. A November Gallup poll found that only a fourth of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of journalists highly. Even bankers ranked higher.

As for Tea Party groups that received extra scrutiny from the I.R.S., an Associated Press-GfK poll released last month found that fewer than a fourth of Americans say they support the group. The Tea Party may well be passé.

The policy issue is a different story, as The Washington Post pointed out this week: “In 2010, the Supreme Court’s landmark ‘Citizens United’ decision cleared the way for corporations and labor unions to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, and register for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4).”

That decision was extremely unpopular. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released nearly a month after the decision was handed down found that 80 percent of Americans opposed it.

So an unpopular movement applied for tax-exempt status under conditions made possible by an unpopular court decision, in order to influence politics with unfathomable amounts money from unnamed donors? Good luck gaining sympathy for that.

ZEALOTRY The Congressional Tea Party Caucus founder, Michele Bachmann, who never misses a chance to say something asinine, suggested to the conservative site that it was “reasonable” to worry that the I.R.S. might use Obamacare to kill conservatives.

The article reads, in part:

“Since the I.R.S. also is the chief enforcer of Obamacare requirements, she asked whether the I.R.S.’s admission means it ‘will deny or delay access to health care’ for conservatives. At this point, she said, that ‘is a reasonable question to ask.’ ”

“Reasonable” and “Bachmann” don’t even belong in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence, and yet she remains one of the most visible spokeswomen for the movement.

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned Republicans against overreaching. In an NPR interview that aired Friday, Gingrich, referring to the impeachment of President Clinton, said, “I think we overreached in ’98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?”

He continued, advising his party to be “calm and factual.” Ha! That’s too rich, and too late. Republicans are already invoking the I-word.

Republicans are their own worst enemies at times like these, unable to leave well-enough alone, and missing chances to honestly engage the public as they race off the cliff in the supercharged outrage machine.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 17, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not A Boon For Most Americans”: Congress Has Tackled The Deficit At The Cost Of The Economy

This morning, Eric Rosengren, chief executive of the Boston Federal Reserve, cautioned lawmakers against further fiscal retrenchment, lest they slow the recovery. As he said at the Global Interdependence Center’s Central Banking Conference in Italy: “Given the economic realities I would urge policymakers to consider scenarios where some elements of fiscal rebalancing take effect only after the economy has more fully improved.”

He’s right, in large part because Congress has already done a fair amount of deficit reduction. Beginning in 2011, with unemployment still high and the economy on a long, slow climb out of recession, Congress — led by a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives — moved to make big cuts in medium-term discretionary spending. It slashed $1 trillion with the Budget Control Act of 2011, and followed that with hundreds of billions more in spending cuts and tax increases with the fiscal cliff deal and sequester.

Now, as a result of this deficit reduction, the Congressional Budget Office projects a $642 billion budget deficit for fiscal year 2013, down $200 billion from its projection at the beginning of the year, and the lowest level of deficit spending since President Obama entered office. The near-term deficit projection also shows improvement; the CBO estimates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. For Washington’s deficit hawks, this is cause for celebration. It’s a sign the federal government is on its way to a more sustainable debt load.

But this rapid deficit reduction is far less of a boon for most Americans, who have to live in an economy that’s been largely stalled by Congressional inaction. At 7.5 percent, unemployment is still too high, and there’s little sign of rapid improvement. According to most projections, joblessness won’t reach pre-recession levels for another three years.

Congress’ push for deficit reduction has a lot to do with this. As noted in the New York Times last week: “The nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011.”

To put that in more concrete terms, 1.5 million more Americans would have jobs if not for Washington’s decision to pursue deficit reduction in the midst of a sluggish economy.

Unfortunately, news of successful deficit reduction is unlikely to result in any respite from new cuts or tax increases. The Obama administration still has its Social Security cuts on the table — as part of a potential “grand bargain” — and Congressional Republicans are gearing up to demand still more spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

Will Washington avoid endangering the still-fragile recovery with further deficit reduction? If the refusal to end or replace the sequester is any indication, I wouldn’t hold my breath.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 16, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Alienation Of Citizens”: Political Dysfunctions Spells Trouble For Democracies

We know American politics are dysfunctional. But after a week of scandal obsession during which the nation’s capital and the media virtually ignored the problems most voters care about — jobs, incomes, growth, opportunity, education — it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy.

Our circumstances certainly have their own particular disabilities: a radicalization of conservative politics, over-the-top mistrust of President Obama on the right, high-tech gerrymandering in the House and a Senate snarled by non-constitutional super-majority requirements.

Still, while it may not be much of a comfort, the democratic distemper is not a peculiarly American phenomenon. Across most of the democratic world, there is an impatience bordering on exhaustion with electoral systems and political classes.

Citizen dissatisfaction is hardly surprising in the wake of a deeply damaging economic downturn. That doesn’t make the challenge any less daunting. We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it.

It’s not hard to discover that this conundrum is global and not just our own. “Has democracy had its day?” is the headline on Columbia University historian Mark Mazower’s cover story in the May issue of Prospect, a British magazine. The subhead: “Electoral politics has had a bad decade.”

Earlier this month, the Transatlantic Academy, a global partnership of think tanks led by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, issued “The Democratic Disconnect,” a sober report by a group of distinguished academics.

“Democracy is in trouble,” the report begins. “The collective engagement of a concerned citizenry for the public good — the bedrock of a healthy democracy — is eroding. Democratic governments often seem crippled in their capacity to deliver what their people want and need. They are neither as responsive nor as accountable as they need to be in an era of hard choices and rising nondemocratic powers. There is widespread concern about apparent declining rates of voter participation and about the alienation or disaffection of citizens from the political process.”

In Europe, the authors noted, “there is fear that the distance between ordinary citizens and the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels compromises democratic legitimacy.” In the United States, “lamentations about gridlock and polarization are the order of the day.” Even our peaceable neighbor Canada is not immune. “Canadians,” they write, “worry about the tendency of their political system to place largely unaccountable power in the hands of the prime minister.”

The report does include some useful suggestions for reviving the democratic spirit and improving democratic practice. But it is not alarmist to be uneasy about democracy’s prospects. Ernst Hillebrand, the head of international policy analysis for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the German Social Democratic Party’s think tank, describes a chilling finding in a 2009 survey by the German polling firm Forsa: “that zero percent — yes, zero percent — of workers in Germany believe they can have a significant impact on how policy in Germany is shaped via the ballot box.”

And bear in mind that a poll released last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that Germans are far more satisfied with their country’s situation than are their European neighbors.

In a conversation last week during a visit to Washington, Hillebrand pointed to two streams of discontent the world’s democracies face. One is material. The other might be called spiritual.

On the one side, large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class voters have seen their economic standing deteriorate over two or three decades. There has been a substantial transfer of wealth and income from labor — which is how most people pay their way — to capital. Productivity gains no longer lead to wage gains. This builds justified frustration.

At the same time, he said, many citizens, especially the young, have enhanced expectations for “participation, self-realization and control over their lives.” They do not see current electoral arrangements in democracies giving them much chance to achieve any of these goals.

Since World War II, bouts of economic growth have allowed democracies to buy their way out of trouble. One can hope this will happen again — and soon. In the meantime, politicians might contemplate their obligations to stewardship of the democratic ideal. They could begin by pondering what an unemployed 28-year-old makes of a ruling elite that expends so much energy feuding over how bureaucrats rewrote a set of talking points.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 19, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ethics For Thee, But Not For Me”: Should Jonathan Karl Reveal His Benghazi Email Source?

The controversy surrounding the editing of the administration’s Benghazi talking points took an interesting turn on Monday when CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that a newly obtained email from White House aide Ben Rhodes written during the editing of those talking points “differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations.”

Tapper was referring, in part, to a May 10 report from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who in that report claimed to be citing both administration “emails” and “summaries” of those emails, provided what appeared to be direct quotes from those emails, and said on air that he had “obtained” them. Karl reported the emails suggested the White House had been deeply involved in crafting a political response to the terror attack that occurred at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi September 11, where four Americans were killed. The ABC exclusive, accusing the administration of having “scrubbed” vital information from the talking points, ignited a controversy about the White House’s handling of the attack.

Referring to the emails quoted in the ABC piece, Tapper stressed that, “Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”

(Both the Rhodes email and those of the State Department bolster testimony from then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators.)

As Media Matters noted, Karl responded by explaining that he had not actually reviewed the emails himself, but had been “quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes.” He added that the source “was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails,” indicating that Karl’s original piece was based entirely on his source’s summaries.

Karl insisted that the summaries represent an accurate take on the emails.

But the email obtained by CNN makes it clear that in at least one key instance Karl’s source, who he quoted “verbatim,” got the emails’ contents wrong, leading to a misleading picture of the process by which the talking points were edited.

Was that error accidental? It’s hard to imagine how simply writing down the contents of an email could lead to such a glaring discrepancy. And the administration’s release yesterday of roughly 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between administration aides around the creation of those talking points does even more to put out the fire that Karl helped to ignite. This raises the question of whether misinformation was passed along to Karl deliberately in order to create a political firestorm.

The revelation that the source passed along inaccurate summaries of the emails raises troubling questions for Karl and ABC News: Do Karl’s bosses know who the source is who misled the reporter? And do other reporters at ABC News regularly use, and trust, the same source?

Another key question is whether Karl should reveal the source who misled him. While journalists take seriously the vow to not reveal the identity of confidential sources in exchange for the information that those sources provide, it’s not unheard of for journalists to reveal source identities if it’s proven that that person badly misled a reporter or passed along bogus information. Some observers think that’s what happened in the case of the Benghazi talking points.

“The answer here is that Karl pretty clearly got burned by his source,” wrote Talking Points Memo editor, Josh Marshall.

Reporters enter into an agreement and give anonymity to sources in exchange for information, and specifically, in exchange for reliable information. But when sources pass along provably false misinformation, and particularly when they do it in a plainly partisan fashion, the nature of that agreement changes and under some newsroom interpretations, reporters are no longer bound to keep secret the name of the unreliable source. In fact, it’s sometimes argued reporters are obligated to ‘burn’ their source in the name of disclosing attempts at misinformation.

“Some journalists adhere to a code where the pledge of anonymity is broken if the source lies,” noted the New York Times’ then-managing editor, Jill Abramson, in 2009.

This newsroom ethics issue was raised prominently during the Valerie Plame leak investigation under the Bush administration.  While the White House was sparring with anti-war critics, such as Valerie Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, who accused the administration of manipulating intelligence, conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote a column pushing back against Wilson. Citing “two senior administration officials,” Novak named Wilson’s wife and identified her as a CIA “operative on weapons of mass destruction.” Outing an undercover CIA employee is against the law and Novak’s column sparked a criminal investigation to determine who had provided him with that information.

At the time, the New York Times’ public editor, Geneva Overholser, noted that journalists ought to speak out against ethical lapses by their sources. She advised the following [emphasis added]:

In this case, then, journalists should call upon Mr. Novak to acknowledge his abuse of confidentiality and reveal his sources himself — thereby keeping the control of confidentiality in journalistic hands rather than in those of the legal system.

Should Karl follow the same advice?


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, May 16, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Journalists, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Too Smart”: How The IRS Planted The Question That Sparked The Tea Party Scandal

Washington tax lawyer Celia Roady acknowledged that at the behest of the IRS, she asked a question at a May 10 conference that would ignite the controversy over inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.

Four days before a damning Inspector General’s report was due to be released, the IRS wanted to get out ahead and potentially defuse some of the backlash.

Roady serves on the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax-Exempt and Government Entities. She asked the planted question to Lois Lerner, the IRS’ director of the tax-exempt division. Within minutes, it sparked shock and a firestorm that the IRS had revealed it inappropriately targeted certain groups, particularly with the words “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their title.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the firm that employs Roady, released a statement on her behalf explaining her role in asking the question:

“On May 9, I received a call from Lois Lerner, who told me that she wanted to address an issue after her prepared remarks at the ABA Tax Section’s Exempt Organizations Committee Meeting, and asked if I would pose a question to her after her remarks.  I agreed to do so, and she then gave me the question that I asked at the meeting the next day. We had no discussion thereafter on the topic of the question, nor had we spoken about any of this before I received her call. She did not tell me, and I did not know, how she would answer the question.”

Outgoing Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller confirmed during testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday that the question had been planted.

That led to intense questioning from members of Congress, who wondered why Lerner did not reveal the news during testimony before the committee on May 8, two days before the conference.

Miller said that the plan had been to simultaneously notify Congress after Lerner’s public admission, but acknowledged that “didn’t happen.”

“She has been directly involved in this matter,” Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said on Friday. “She failed to disclose what she knew to this committee, choosing instead to do so at an ABA conference two days later.

“This is wholly unacceptable.”


By: Bret LoGiurato, Business Insider, May 18, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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