Posted tagged ‘eric holder’

When Words Are Not What Someone Says They Are

May 18, 2013

If there ever was a desire for fantasy, one could not get more of it than listening today as Congress holds one hearing after another over subjects in which the public has little interest.  The public silently suspects Congress doesn’t know or care what they are actually doing or saying.

Benghazi, the IRS 501(c)(3) process, and the Associated Press record collections are examples that seem for the moment to have taken prominence above Obamacare, the Deficit, and Jobs. I wonder why?  Hmmm.

Representative Darrell Issa is leading the Benghazi hearings.  His interest appears not about learning and preventing a repeat.  If he were, he could work to restore funding for our Diplomats security.  Issa’s interest appears, instead, more about finding some potentially politically embarrassing “after the fact” detail which once revealed will make the Administration look bad (and presumably hurt Democrats in the 2014 mid-terms.

The IRS situation is potential far more serious and what really happened and why must be established.  You might not guess that by early Congressional questioning.

The IRS extra investigation of certain groups seeking 501(c)(3) status crossed a line in traditional American fair play sensibility and that is a serious matter.  It is important to know whether political appointees in the IRS influenced this behavior.  But it is also possible and we should not be a surprise that these groups would draw extra attention.  The rules are murky.   The difference between “issue advocacy” and “political advocacy” can be wafer thin.

And the most fundamental question is why should either, issue or political advocacy receive any tax advantageous status?

Representative Dave Camp asked a number of reasonable questions and then landed on his conclusion… the entire tax code needs to be reformed.  Others Congress members took the opportunity to polish their “election is just around the corner” medals and asked strictly partisan questions.

The Associated Press issue on its own merits has little traction in Congress other than as a method for Republicans to impugn the reputation of Attorney General Holder.  But this issue has potentially more education value for the American public than both of the other issues.

The entire press establishment is up in arms over records of AP telephone communications, even though they were legally obtained.  The first Amendment flag has been raised and the public is being warned of the potential loss of our liberty if the news media can be so assaulted.  Hmmm.

If hearings do follow, the public may be surprised to learn how routine the flow of information is between government officials and the “press”.  Leaks and quotable comments are the life blood of the media.  We now frequently read quotes attributed to someone who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on the subject.  Hmmm.

What should words mean?

Benghazi has meaning in the greater context of how the US will conduct its foreign affairs in a new lawless world such as is emerging in the Middle East.  It also highlights the quandary surrounding budget reductions and the expectations of government.  How can the US carry the flag when there is no money (or too little) to protect it?

The IRS is important for both the need to keep politics out of IRS bowels, AND, the ridiculous nature of the current tax code.

The AP situation is far more nuanced.  The subpoenaed records were done legally (remember the Bush years and records were taken secretly without due process).  The real issue may not be about freedom of the press or the work of whistle blowers.  It is about the cottage industry which produces a steady flow of rumors and insider information to a hungry, waiting news media that live off this flow.  The AP situation is about “degrees” and not absolutes.  The cultivation of sources for the 7/24 news media is the issue that will almost assuredly not be investigated.



Black, White, and Gray

May 14, 2013

President Obama has managed to take the wind out of the Benghazi sails, but probably not the way he would have preferred.  The President has two more investigations on his hands.  And from what I can see, he deserves both.

The two new “scandals” involve the IRS and the Justice Department.  The IRS made the list by singling out and investigating certain conservative groups filing for 501 (C) (3) status.  The Justice Department got the nod by using secret subpoena power to collect a huge number of Associated Press reporters’ telephone numbers and records, all in pursuit of a government leaker.  Hmmm.

Both of these events seem fundamentally dumb in their execution, but not necessarily in their assumed purpose.   The 501(c)(3) status transforms an organization into “tax exempt” classification,  This can convert corporation money into “issues” based free speech expression.  It can also hide the identity of those backing the organization’s public positions.  The specific targets were right wing, conservative groups advocating strongly anti-Democrat, anti-Obama positions.  The tax code, however, does not allow 501(c)(3)organizations to express support or criticism for specific party or candidates.  Hmmm.

The AP situation is a bit more nuanced.  The Bush Administration as well as the Obama Administration “leak” information whenever they feel it appropriate.  Yet both Administrations cried “foul” when someone within government leaded information unauthorized.  Hmmm.

Investigating specific groups, especially political ones, in a targeted manner is quite simply dumb and amateurish.  Why not ask the same of all organizations applying for 501(c)(3) status?  If that requirement would not pass public acceptance, then narrowing it to some small, targeted group would be unlikely to also.

Any Administration should be cautious about restricting or attempting to restrict the first Amendment.  And each Administration could help its own case by not engaging in self initiated leaks.  But the press does not have or deserve a “free pass”.  They are obligated to use discretion in what they print.  For sure that makes the release of classified information a tough call, but that’s responsible journalism.  Using a hammer (the size of this AP subpoena) to go after a gnat is prima facia dumb.

So why has this all happened?

It is too soon to know but there are some usual suspects.

  • (1) The Obama Administration has been a “reactive” one.  Team Obama tends to monitor and then react.  While this can be effective in not creating a problem through ill conceived initiatives, it sets the rest of the Administration up to handle problems that do arise without a clear “tone at the top”.
  • (2) These are complicated times.  There should be no doubt that all special interest groups see tax exempt status as an advantages.  They can attract money and provide anonymity to the donors.  Where exactly do these groups cross the line from issues to political statements is an important question?
  • (3) The deeds of ambitious people are always difficult to control.  Ambitious people are also the ones who get things done.  And in the bureaucratic maizes known as the IRS or the Justice Department, how do aspiring workers get recognized and promoted?  Cutting corners and skirting edges often gives one an advantage and leads to results.

Resolution of these two new problems will probably look like this.  First, the IRS will promise never to do it again and ceremonially fire several agents.  Second, Attorney General Holder will admit that while legal, the subpoenas were probably over reach.  He will return the records and promise to be more careful in the future.  Third, groups like the Tea Party and the Associated Press will proudly declare victory and proclaim their allegiance to the Constitution.

And then if nothing else arise, it will be Benghazi time again.


“Fast and Dubious”

June 21, 2012

Have you ever noticed the serious face Congressional leaders show when they are about to tell the largest fib ever?

House of Representative member, Darrel Issa, has one of the best.  He showed television cameras his “face” yesterday when announcing the “ayes” have it.  The House Committee on Oversight had just voted to seek the entire House approval of contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Eric Holder.

Now it is true that Representative Issa had asked the Attorney General for thousand of documents, and the Justice Department had not turned all of them over.  It is true that Issa had asked and demanded these missing documents more than once.  It is also true that Holder had said he could not (and would not) turn some documents over.  It is also true that both Issa and Holder had issued statements saying they hoped to resolve this issue.

So much for negotiations, especially in an election year.

We should all be relieved that Issa is on this case.  Matters of national security, or violations of Constitutional rights, or subject of fraud and corruption are important matters in which Congress should have an oversight role.

What, the contempt charge is not about any of them?

We will likely never know what Issa’s subpoenas would have revealed unless the Administration decides later to release them.  We may never know, for sure, the purpose of the subpoenas in the first place.  Was this about who has the most power?  Was this about raising all sorts of charges and seeing if any can stick?  Was this about a legitimate issue with which Americans should be concerned?

What we do know is that this issue has nothing to do with jobs, or healthcare, or national defense, or clean air, or energy independence.  We know it has nothing to do with stimulating global economic growth, or fixing the post office financials, or developing a comprehensive plan to resolve the status of 11 million immigrants.

So, tell me again, what is this really about?


Sometimes Stars Don’t Shine

June 19, 2012

I am a late comer to viewing the HBO series “The Wire”.  Like so many others, I am hooked.  The first year series moves quickly, seems to present “real” people, and keeps ones interest from episode to episode.  It is the depiction, however, of the rotten under belly of bureaucracy, the sad and pathetic misuse of the public’s trust, and the frequent hopelessly misguided application of State power that makes the bell really ring.  “I’ve seen someone just like that….”

The news yesterday that former big league pitcher, Roger Clemens, was found innocent of all charges that he lied to Congress was another wake up call.  How many will we need?

Clemens like John Edwards should never have been charged and never should have been the target of these high cost, high profile trials.  Both were undoubtably responsible for what they were charged (although the juries did not find the case that way), the greater issue is “so what”.

With zillion of dollars flowing like Niagara Fall into both the Obama and the Romney campaigns, Edwards non-coordinated use of gifts from two very wealthy donors to keep his mistress out of the public’s eye pales in comparison.  On top of that, the actual charge under campaign finance rules was a first time application and was viewed as a real stretch.  (Two former FEC chairmen said they would never have charged Edwards.)

Clemens, on the other hand, is a baseball player.  His charge of lying to Congress was a joke to begin with.  (Remember it takes a lair to know one.)  Steroid use in baseball is well documented and takes anyone but a blind person to recognize it on the playing field.  So why is Congress involved in the first place?

Congress seems unable to pass sensible legislation stimulating the economy or slimming the deficit, or for that matter a wide range of other subjects.  Why did they wish to spend time and money with baseball?

The “Wire” would suggest that Edwards and Clemens were selected for prosecution because they were “highly” visible people, and would provide department political currency to the careers of those involved.  These two would bring more attention to the prosecutors than your run of the mill murderer, securities theft artist, or polluter.

These cases were most likely initiated more for the potential limelight that would be shown on the prosecutors, his/her supervision, and his/her department than for any law enforcement value.

Considers former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens where the Federal charges were serious but the prosecutorial methods were quite lacking, one can see another high visibility attempted prosecution that ended poorly.  The Prosecutors did not play by the rules.

Now these three recent cases could be just exception.  They could just be aberrations with no ties to a trend.  Or maybe not.

Building strong, purposeful and apolitical departments, such as Justice, Defense, or Education is more important than any agenda the party in power may have.  Clemens and Edwards makes one wonder whether President Obama and Attorney General Holder need to look more closer at how our civil servants are rewarded for performing their jobs.


May 5, 2011

It has been instructive to hear Republican and Neoconservative supporters of former President George W Bush.  They have flocked to the forefront in search of any open microphone.  Their message… we were right.

If their message is directional, we can agree they were on the right side.  If their message is about truth, they are just as wrong today as they were from 2000 to 2008.

The crowd that supported “W” fell victims to the juice they were trying to sell everyone else.  Deconstructing government and helping oil companies and any other big spending K-Street organization was the focus of this group.  Their goal was simple.  Get elected and divert as much money as possible into the hands of supporters.

The Bush Administration slept until 9/11 took place.  They had been warned but knew better.  Following 9/11 there was little they could not do which would remind the nation of fear and how the nation needed these tough Bush guys.  The irony, of course, is that Karl Rove and “W” were two softies of the first magnitude.

Never the less all government responses to 9/11 were crafted for maximum impact on the 2004 election.  The enhanced interrogation methods were first conducted in secret since the nation’s reaction could not be predicted.  This was a cowardice Administration.

Think about these brave men.  Invading and occupying Iraq under false pretenses, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Katrina, wireless (unauthorized) wiretaps, NSA spying on Americans, and ultimately, the collapse of the financial sector.  This all happened on “W’s” watch.

So it is with amazement that I watch and listen to some that old crowd puff up their chests and try to claim credit for finding bin Laden.  They do not seem to remember that it is ten years after 9/11 or that the CIA “bin Laden” desk was disbanded during “W” term due to lack of action.

You have to suspect that Republican motivation is similar this time.  If they could fool the country into thinking it was Bush/Cheney that are responsible for bin Laden’s elimination, so much the better.  But they will settle for clouding the subject so that Democrats do not get credit.

It is not in Obama’s nature but his best move would be to encourage the right to say more about enhanced interrogation.  Then ask Attorney General Holder to prosecute.

Political Miscarriage

March 7, 2010

The Obama Administration has begun to “leak” a shift in strategy on trying Guantanamo detainees. Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be tried in New York City in a civilian court. Now the signals are that the Administration will back track and revert to Military Commissions. This is a sad miscarriage of trust voters placed in Barack Obama in November of 2008.

KSM by all accounts seems to be a real “bad guy”. He has been linked to a number of terrorist activities with the most prominent being the 9/11 attacks. Destruction of the twin towers and the murder of over 3000 innocent people seems to me to be criminal behavior and subject to the US criminal justice system. What is wrong with a trial in a civilian court?

Some would have us believe US courts are too liberal or are the right of only US citizens. They add that the US is at war and under those conditions, military commissions are more appropriate. A little history might be useful here. Guantanamo was almost full of prisoners before the US put forth the rules the Military Commissions would use.

These Military Commission allow the court to use “hearsay” evidence, can hide from the accused evidence that will be used against them, and in the unlikely event of “not guilt” still hold the detainee indefinitely. The rest of the world see these proceedings as those of a cheap third world power.

Stranger still, and probably even more concerning, is why not to use the civil courts?

Could it be the civil protections we expect in any criminal proceeding are practices the conservative right wing of this country do not think we should have? Could it be that the right to a speedy trial, right to see ones accuser, and a fair trial by ones peers are protections the right wing feels unnecessary? Could it be that the path Greece’s first democracy, Athens, followed, slowly but steadily surrendering its liberties to their appointed “tyrant” is the slippery path we are unknowingly setting down?

Mr President, move the trial if you must but keep it in a civilian setting for the sake of real justice and freedom for the rest of us.

Three Blind Mice

September 19, 2009

Former CIA leaders, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, and George Tenet have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to reverse Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to investigate interrogation abuses allegedly committed by CIA personnel. (Joining these three were also former Directors John Deutch, James Woolsey, William Webster, and James Schlesinger.) These seven have expressed concern that the investigation will discourage CIA operatives from doing their job in the future. So I guess torture is ok if you are simply trying to do your job.

From an organizational morale perspective, these former CIA Directors have a legitimate point. Their subordinates are intentional put in the difficult position of gathering intelligence where the rules of the road are not always clear or at a minimum, vary greatly from what US law allows. In these post 9/11 suspected abuses, the CIA had, to its credit, consistently sought clarification from the Administration on what they could legally do. Thanks to patriotic chicken hawks like Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, and Jonathan Yoo, the CIA got the nod to stray way over the line. So there is a certain logic to the genesis of this letter.

Pursuing CIA operatives who may have tortured is pursuing the symptoms and not the disease. The investigation and prosecution should focus upon Goss, Tenet, and Hayden, and those who requested, formulated, or promoted enhanced interrogation. Waterboarding and violations of the Geneva Convention can not be justified as legal by any Executive Branch directive, and Goss, Tenet, and Hayden should have been expected to know this.

So for Goss, Tenet, and Hayden to sign this letter and claim the basis as hurting morale, we are seeing disingenuous words at their best, These three blind mice are really concerned about any investigation and the possibility of being included in the sweep themselves.