Thursday, May 30, 2013

Time for my take on the IRS "Scandal"...

"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence"

Its been a couple weeks now since the IRS "scandal" broke in the press. The basic story line is this. An unknown number of Internal Revenue Agents who were assigned to the Determination Unit, based in Cincinnati, OH began to look for certain phrases like Tea Party, Patriots, Freedom, etc. as they investigated what organizations should and which shouldn't receive the 501 (c) (4) status they sought.

What does 501 (c) 4 status mean? Wiki says the following: (Bold mine)

501(c)(4) organizations are generally civic leagues and other corporations operated exclusively for the promotion of "social welfare", such as civics and civics issues, or local associations of employees with membership limited to a designated company or people in a particular municipality or neighborhood, and with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.[35] An organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.[36]
501(c)(4) organizations may inform the public on controversial subjects and attempt to influence legislation relevant to its program[37]and, unlike 501(c)(3) organizations, they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare.[38] The tax exemption for 501(c)(4) organizations applies to most of their operations, but contributions may be subject to gift tax, and income spent on political activities - generally the advocacy of a particular candidate in an election - is taxable.[39] 501(c)(4) organizations are not permitted direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.[36]
Contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are usually not deductible as charitable contributions for U.S. federal income tax, with a few exceptions.[40] 501(c)(4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors publicly.[41].

You got that? c3's can not be involved in a political campaign or supporting a candidate in any way shape or form. A c4 can in a limited way, as long as its "primary activity" is social welfare. 

This is important and I encourage you to give this short interview from Sirius XM's POTUS Channel #124 with Melanie Sloan a good listen. Its about 17 minutes long, but Sloan lays out the differences really well and discusses the fundamental problem that occurred when the IRS changed its own language and made it less clear with regard to what kind of organizations can actually be a 501 C4. Ms. Sloan is the head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and has taken the IRS to task several times over this exact issue.

Sit back and listen to this: 

(Audio courtesy of Tim Farley/POTUS/Sirius/XM #124)

There's been a great amount of hand wringing about this scandal from both sides. No one really disputes that some IRS employees went too far in how they attempted to determine if certain groups deserved the desired status or not. That said, this status isn't intended to be granted upon demand. It has to be proven and substantiated the purpose and activities of a requesting group. With the growing number of requests for 501 C-4 status on the rise since the Citizens United ruling, methods were developed to try and work through the requests more efficiently. Groups have tried to take advantage of the IRS for a long time and its not beyond the pale to think that an applying group with phrases like Tea Party, Patriots, Freedom, etc...might not be the  "social welfare" organizations they claimed to be.

Its a good time to point out that many who find fault with the IRS often cite tax fraud and cheats as being a big problem that needs addressed. Everyone should pay their fair share, no doubt. Also keep in mind, that every time the actions and methods of those in the Determination Units were passed on to the higher ups, they were told uniformally to stop immediately.

Poor judgement was present in large quantities on this project, and new rules have to be put into place to avoid this from happening again. But, as Ezra Klein pointed out so well in today's Washington Post's Wonkblog, let's not confuse scandal with scrutiny.

It was proper that the tea party groups received heavy scrutiny. As the New York Times has firmly established, many of them were primarily political groups that potentially didn’t qualify for 501(c)(4) status.

When CVFC, a conservative veterans’ group in California, applied for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, its biggest expenditure that year was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress.
The Wetumpka Tea Party, from Alabama, sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama” while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.
And the head of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, whose application languished with the I.R.S. for more than two years, sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.

And more:

The problem wasn’t that the IRS closely scrutinized questionable applications from tea party groups. It’s that they didn’t closely scrutinized the applications from other questionable groups as well. The scrutiny was the part they did right. The targeting was the part they did wrong.

According to sworn testimony at a House hearing last Friday, the notion that only Conservative groups were singled out was addressed:

“If the targeting wasn’t targeting, if the targeting wasn’t based on philosophy, how come only conservatives got snagged?” Roskam confidently asked.
“They didn’t, sir,” Miller responded. “Organizations of all walks and all persuasions were pulled in. That’s shown by the fact that only 70 of the 300 organizations were tea party organizations, of the ones that were looked at by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration].”
Roskam angrily cut off Miller and asserted his statement was at odds with the inspector general’s testimony, then ended his questioning.
But Treasury inspector general J. Russell George testified during the hearing that no evidence indicated the additional review of the 300 groups was politically or ideologically motivated. He blamed the incident on mismanagement.
Of the 298 groups subjected to additional review, 72 were “tea party” groups, 11 were “9/12″ groups and 13 were “patriots” groups, according to the inspector general’s report.
So, it is clear things were done wrong in the field with regard to processing 501 c4 applications. The "BOLO's " (Be on the lookout for) lists were wrong and shouldn't have been used. Going forward, new, improved, cleaner procedures have to be developed and put into practice. ALL applicants should be given the same scrutiny, regardless of party affiliation.

That's what I know. What I don't know is how we connect all of this to the Obama Administration. I know there's a political party that would love nothing more than to see this turn into an honest to goodness scandal, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen.

The Internal Revenue Service has a hell of a job on its hands. Its fashionable these days, especially on the right, to bash the entire organization as corrupt, bought and sold, un-American, criminal, etc. Which is a load of crap, of course. The employees of the IRS are people. As in any cross section of a large group of people, you'll find all kinds. Keep this in mind, in 1996, the IRS employed roughly 107,000 employees across the Country. Today, it employs 97,000. Ask yourself, is there that much less work for them to do? The IRS is losing manpower, seeing its budget cut back over recent years, etc. No excuses, but there's a price tag to be paid for austerity measures.

I don't know where these investigations will take us. I think we will beat this until there just nothing left to beat and a respectable, hard working agency will have been unfairly slandered. A few bad apples (or well intentioned confused ones) will have caused a lot of damage. This isn't going away and every day seems to bring a new round of outrage from politicians both conservative and liberal, who God forbid, don't want to miss their kick at the IRS's can.

Let's keep our eyes wide open on this. Let's understand what it is and what it isn't.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Important Decisions Due from Supreme Court by End of June...

The United States Supreme Court has several important rulings to announce overt the next several weeks. Voting Rights, Gay Marriage, Affirmative Action and Gene Patents are all issues that the Court will be announcing its ruling on before its Summer recess, which arrives in the last week of June.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice summary of the four cases:

Voting Rights: The Supreme Court is deciding on the constitutionality of a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires some localities, particularly in the South, to get approval in advance from Washington for changes to their voting laws. At arguments in February, conservative justices suggested the provision had outlived its relevance and was imposing undue burdens on these localities. Supporters say the law is still needed to ensure voting rights. The case is Shelby County v. Holder.WSJ coverage is here.
Affirmative Action: More than seven months have passed since the justices heard arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, challenging the university’s consideration of race in an admissions formula. Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed skepticismabout the formula, and the court’s five conservatives appeared headed toward a major ruling that would curb racial preferences in university admissions. Whatever the outcome, it appears the majority and dissenters are using all their available time to polish their opinions on this hot-button issue.
Gay marriage: In late March the court heard arguments on whether to nullify a federal law that bars recognition of gay marriage and a California law banning gay marriage in the state. In the California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the justices appeared divided and at times almost regretful they waded into the issue amid fast-changing public opinion. They also questioned whether the case over the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. v. Windsor, belonged before them, raising the possibility of a ruling that would focus on procedure rather than fundamental rights, as Jess Bravin wrote in his analysis of the arguments.
Gene patents: The justices will decide whether human genes can be patented. At arguments in April, justices were skeptical that merely extracting DNA from a body would make the product a patentable invention, as asserted by patent holder Myriad Genetics Inc. Myriad sells a test for its patented breast-cancer genes. Actress Angelina Jolie recently made news after getting a mastectomy based on her test results.

Department Of Justice Begins to Mend Media Fences...

Politico's Mike Allen has an interesting thing on the Justice Department trying to reach out to major media outlets and the DOJ charts a more palatable path forward in terms of how to coexist with the media.

From today's Playbook:

The Justice Department began contacting D.C. bureau chiefs of major print and broadcast news organizations yesterday to set up a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss changes to the department's guidelines for subpoenas to news organizations. A source close to Holder said that in retrospect, he regrets the breadth and wording of the investigation involving Fox's James Rosen (which Holder approved), and recognizes that the subpoena for AP records (Holder had recused himself from that case) took in more phone lines than necessary.
"The A.G. realizes that things might have gotten a little out of balance, and he wants to make changes to be sure the rules fully account for the balance between the First Amendment and law enforcement," the source said. The first media meeting will be held at main Justice, likely later this week. A later meeting will include First Amendment advocates.
A Justice Department official tells Playbook : "Attorney General Eric Holder will hold meetings with several Washington bureau chiefs of national news organizations in the next two days as part of the review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. This review, which was announced by President Obama last Thursday, is consistent with the Attorney General's long standing belief that protecting and defending the First Amendment is essential to our democracy. These meetings will begin a series of discussions that will continue to take place over the coming weeks. During these sessions, the Attorney General will engage with a diverse and representative group of news media organizations, including print, wires, radio, television, online media and news and trade associations. Further discussions will include news media executives and general counsels as well as government experts in intelligence and investigative agencies."
Holder also has been doing bipartisan outreach to the Hill on media-shield legislation. Obama had announced in his counterterrorism speech last week that Holder "has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and he'll convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I've directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th."
A Justice official, re the AP records : "Because the investigation is ongoing and involves classified information, the Department is limited in what it can share. However, we have made clear that the subpoenas were sought only after a months-long investigation which included over 500 interviews and a review of tens of thousands of pages of documents. The subpoenas sought telephone toll records for specific telephone numbers associated with the reporters whose reports contained the leaked material. Toll records include only the sort of information the public commonly sees on their telephone bills, and do not include any information about the content of any conversations. The subpoenas covered a period of less than two months. Finally, the Department did not monitor, or attempt to obtain the content of, any telephone conversations. The focus here was on finding the leaker, and was not targeting AP or its ability to gather or report the news."
--MIKA BRZEZINSKI, on "Morning Joe": "A source close to Holder tells 'Morning Joe' that changes are coming with regards to leak investigations. We have also learned that the Justice Department will be holding meetings with journalists and news organizations over the next few weeks to go over their concerns."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The GOP has had it both ways and the Dems likely have no one to blame but themselves. The initial suspected "leaks" riled up Conservatives which led to the DOJ digging into some media members personal lives in an un-called for way. History seems prepared to slam the Obama Administration for not controlling some information and then over-reacting in a ham handed fashion to make matter worse. 


Michelle Bachmann Announces She Won't Seek Re-Election in 2014...

Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has announced she will not seek re-election in 2014. The announcement was made via a video on her website earlier this morning.

And as she likes to do so publicly, we can all thank God for this development. Clearly, I've not been a fan of hers. The number of exaggerations, mis-representations, outright lies, etc. are too numerous to chronicle. Visit one of the fact check websites, ( or, to review how she fares under the microscope.

Michelle, the floor is yours:

I especially like the part where she said her decision not to run again in 2014 was "not influenced by any concerns about recent inquiries into her 2012 presidential campaign."This decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff.”

Perhaps her decision to not run again was partly fueled by the razor thin margin (.012) of victory last time against her Democratic opponent Jim Graves, who she outspent substantially. She claims otherwise in her remarks, saying, “My decision was not in any way influenced by any concerns about my being re-elected to Congress,” she said. “If I ran I would again defeat the individual who I defeated last year.”

Of course, it wasn't Mrs. Bachmann.

Mrs. Bachmann is among the very worst of the GOP/Tea Party leaders. Her willingness to push buttons on everything from "death panels" to Islam "jihadists" seemingly around every corner turned my stomach and to my way of thinking, made things worse for the Country. I do not suspect there's another Presidential run in her future, which has to make anyone running from the Democrats (or the media) a bit sad. Her campaign after reaching its peak at the Iowa straw polls dropped like a rock and she, in my opinion, was revealed to be a lightweight among a lightweight field of GOP hopefuls. She loves to wrap herself in the Bible, the Flag and the ghost of former President Reagan, all at once and all three make an appearance in her announcement video. She takes a few shots at President Obama for good measure and attempts to inocolate herself against the predictable unfair treatment from the media she knows is forthcoming. 

I won't be surprised to see Bachmann wind up on Glen Beck's network, (The Blaze) or Fox News, with an outside chance of a network like CNN grabbing her simply for the ratings she would probably bring. At least for a while. I'm guessing there's also a good chance of a book, a book tour, a bus tour, possibly a documentary, another book, and on and on and on. If Sarah Palin can milk political failure into financial security, why can't Michelle Bachmann?


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Has History Judged Neville Chamberlain Too Harshly?

Intelligence Squared, one of the very best debate organisations going, has an interesting night scheduled for the evening of June 5th, 2013. The topic that night will be whether history and historians have been fair in their assessment of  Neville Chamberlain, former Prime Minister of great Britain, who has been highly criticized for his "appeasement strategy" towards Germany's Adolf Hitler.

The debate will explore whether or not Chamberlain in fact, made the best decision he could've at the time for England.

The preview from Intelligence

If ever a politician got a bum rap it’s Neville Chamberlain. He has gone down in history as the British Prime Minster whose policy of appeasement in the 1930s allowed the Nazis to flourish unopposed. He has never been forgiven for ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in the Munich Agreement of September 1938, and for returning home triumphantly declaring “peace for our time”. The very word “appeasement” is now synonymous with him, signifying a craven refusal to stand up to bullies and aggressors. What a contrast to Winston Churchill, the man who took over as Prime Minister and who has ever since been credited with restoring Britain’s backbone.
But is the standard verdict on Chamberlain a fair one? After all, memories of the slaughter of the First World War were still fresh in the minds of the British, who were desperate to avoid another conflagration. And what choice did Chamberlain have in 1938, in any case? There’s a good case for arguing that the delay in hostilities engineered at Munich allowed time for military and air power to be strengthened.
So what’s the verdict? Let history decide, they often say. But why wait that long? Come to the RGS on June 5th 2013, join some of Britain’s most eminent historians, and decide for yourself at the third event in our new series of history debates.
 Intelligence Squared does post videos of all of its debates on its youtube channel, which is a wealth of intelligent discussions. Watch for the video from the Chamberlain debate by mid June....
Learn more about Intelligence Squared here....

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Best Defense of the Medical Device Tax I've Seen....

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times has written what is the best and clearest defense of the Affordable Care Act's "medical device tax."

One of the ACA's primary funding sources, the MDT has come under bi-partisan fire and the Senate voted last March to repeal it, 79-20, with 33 Democrats voting for repeal. While the vote was mostly symbolic, its shows how many Democrats have decided that it would be ok to defund this part of Obamacare and let the chips fall where they may. Most assuredly, such votes are in response to localized political pressure.

Hiltzik does a good job at breaking down the arguments in favor of repeal and describes the effect on the overall impact of the ACA should the MDT be removed.

Read the column here: 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Democrats and Republicans: The Broad and Narrow Ways?

The prolific and often insightful Ezra Klein has a fascinating column on the simultaneous ideological shifts of the Republican's embrace of the far right and Democrat's acceptance of a broader range of policies. 
He cites policy positions once supported by the likes of President G. W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain as being given over to the Democrats. 

A couple of excerpts: 

"Over the last few years, the Republican Party has been retreating from policy ground they once held and salting the earth after them. This has coincided with, and perhaps even been driven by, the Democratic Party pushing into policy positions they once rejected as overly conservative. The result is that the range of policies you can hold and still be a Republican is much narrower than it was in, say, 2005. That’s left a lot of once-Republican wonks without an obvious political home."


"If you imagine a policy spectrum that goes from 1-10 in which 1 is the most liberal policy, 10 is the most conservative policy, and 5 is that middle zone that used to hold both moderate Democrats and Republicans, the basic shape of American politics today is that the Obama administration can and will get Democrats to agree to anything ranging from 1 to 7.5 and Republicans will reject anything that's not an 8, 9, or 10. The result, as I've written before, is that President Obama's record makes him look like a moderate Republican from the late-90s."

The political consequences of such a shift obviously do not work in the Republican's favor. If nothing else, electoral competitiveness demands that the pendulum begin shifting back from such an extreme position.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Some Very Good News for Obamacare...

The Washington Posts' Ezra Klein takes a look at how the lower than expected health insurance rates announced in California could mean good news going forward for the Obama administration.

In short, if California and other States that have embraced the Affordable Care Act find mostly success in the first year of implementation, while other States that rejected it have little to offer to their uninsured, the contrast might produce a net gain for the long term health of Obamacare.

Click here to read Ezra's write-up...


California Showing Promise for Obamacare Costs...

There's word coming out of California that new health insurance premiums are far lower than previously anticipated. Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post has the story.

A preview:

Health insurers will charge 25-year-olds between $142 and $190 per month for a bare-bones health plan in Los Angeles.
A 40-year-old in San Francisco who wants a top-of-the-line plan would receive a bill between $451 and $525. Downgrade to a less robust option, and premiums fall as low as $221. These premium rates, released Thursday, help answer one of the biggest questions about Obamacare: How much health insurance will cost. They do so in California, the state with 7.1 million uninsured residents, more than any other place in the country.
Multiple projections expected premiums to be relatively high.
The Congressional Budget Office predicted back in November 2009 that a medium-cost plan on the health exchange – known as a “silver plan” – would have an annual premium of  $5,200. A separate report from actuarial firm Milliman projected that, in California, the average silver plan would have a $450 monthly premium.  Now we have California’s rates, and they appear to be significantly less expensive than what forecasters expected.
Read the entire story here... 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What snake venom does to blood...

This is amazing and a bit disturbing all at once... click the link below to see the video:

The Washington Post

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ramesh Ponnuru's Latest Column: "Obama Scandals Could Actually Hurt Republicans"

While I admit I lean left, I make an effort to read Conservative writings on a regular basis and I've developed a sort of "go to" list of writers to keep tabs on. Reihan Salam, David Brooks, David Frum tend to be my mainstays but a column by National Review's Senior Editor, Ramesh Ponnuru caught my eye today.

The column, "Obama Scandals Could Actually Hurt Republicans" looks at how historically the GOP has over-played its hand when the Democrats have a scandal to deal with.

An excerpt:

The biggest danger for Republicans in giving themselves over to scandal mania is one that the conventional retelling of the Clinton impeachment neglects. Republicans didn’t lose seats simply because they overreached on Clinton’s perjury. It is true that his impeachment was unpopular, and public approval of the Republicans sank as they pursued it. Still, only 5 percent of voters in the 1998 election told exit pollsters that the scandal had played a role in their decision, and Republicans got a majority of those voters.
Social Security was the top issue for more than twice as many voters, and Republicans lost that issue by 18 percentage points. Even more voters cared about education, which Republicans lost by 34 points. They lost on health care and the economy by similar margins.
Its fairly short, takes less than five minutes to read it, which I encourage you to do...

Why some people buy into conspiracy theories and others don't...

An interesting study has been released by Fairleigh Dickinson University on the subject of conspiracy theories. In short, conspiracy theories appeal to some people more than they appeal to others. Generally speaking, if you tend to believe in things like conspiracies you tend to keep on believing in other things like tbat being possible. On the other hand, if you don't believe generally in conspiracy theories, you tend not to believe the new conspiracy theories that come across your path.

There's a lot of interesting findings in the report which you can read in full by clicking on the link below:

Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories -

Budget Deficit falling sharply

In case you missed it among all of the scandal news last week, the Office of Management and Budget updated its February forecast, reducing the expected 2013 deficit by $203 billion to $642 billion, the lowest total since 2008.

This postpones the anticipated battle over the government's borrowing limit from summer to the October-November time frame and also decreases chances for a long term budget deal.

From the Huffington Post:

"The CBO said the deficit will fall to $378 billion by 2015 with no congressional action - a sharp contrast to the $1 trillion recession-driven deficits in each of President Barack Obama's first four years in office.

The revisions are driven largely by rising tax revenue from individuals and corporations as the economy sputters back to life. They also reflect stronger contributions to U.S. Treasury coffers from government-run mortgage finance groups Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"Because revenues, under current law, are projected to rise more rapidly than spending in the next two years, deficits in CBO's baseline projections continue to shrink, falling to 2.1 percent of GDP by 2015," the CBO said in its report.

That level is considered easily sustainable by budget analysts, who said the report will blunt Republican arguments that rising federal debt levels will soon crush the economy."


Monday, May 20, 2013

"If We Could See Inside Other's Hearts..." from the Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic, one of the premier hospitals in the United States, has produced and released a short but powerful video on the importance of empathy when it comes to not only patients, but each other, in all walks of life. There is no dialogue, just a series of images of people, young and old, men and women, black, white, etc. and captions describing each person's situation. The video is underscored with an effective musical bed that compliments the various scenes nicely.

Its called, "If We Could See Inside Other's Hearts..."

The message is conveyed in a clever but respectful way. Its "everyman" quality allows it to reach a wide audience. I'm not sure of the intended application of the production, but one would hope its a part of every new hire's orientation. Too often in health care, patients are "conditions" not people. I understand why that is and its not my intent to address that here. If the video allows a few "new" moments of empathy or understanding, I have to think that's a good thing. Most health care professionals know where to draw the line on controlling their emotions, out of necessity. To be able to see a health care worker perhaps use a gentler tone, explain it one more time, might make the experience for both the patient and provider a little better, a little more human.

Take 4:45 and watch this...


Conflict of Interest?

Interesting read about a Pentagon advisor pushing an anti-anthrax drug that his employer sells. Is it a conflict of interest or is he merely providing a valuable product?

Anthrax drug brings $334 million to Pentagon advisor's biotech firm -

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Is he handsome?"

Hey ladies...

Are you distressed that you've caught your husband cheating on you?

Are you troubled that he's finding pleasure in another woman's arms?

Are you having problems forgiving him for breaking his sacred vows of fidelity?

Well, what did you expect?

He's a man, right?

Let's get a few things straight, shall we?

First you should understand that men have a tendency to "wander" and if you'd made your home (and yourself, of course,) as appealing as you should have, well maybe he wouldn't have "wandered."

Stop yammering, will you, about the affair you caught him having. Don't worry that you can't seem to forgive him and trust in him again. There are more serious questions you should be concerned with at this important time. Does he provide you a home to live in? Does he provide you food to eat? Clothes to wear? Is he nice to the children? Does he take them to sporting events? Most importantly, is he good looking?

Here's what you should do. Focus on the good stuff about him. (I presume there is some good stuff otherwise why would you have married the idiot?) You're being a little unreasonable toward him if you take into consideration all the temptations out there that may have captured him. What's a man to do?

Hold his hand, touch his face, stroke his cheek, give him honor and respect and your troubles will be gone in no time. In fact, thank your lucky stars that you have such a wonderful marriage.

In case you missed any of this, here it is again, in video form:

Now go get him a cup of coffee or perhaps make him a sandwich, will you?


What should be the last words on the Benghazi "coverup"...

No, not really....
 Much has been written about Benghazi and most of its been wrong. While many on the right seem to have wanted it to be a scandal for obvious political purposes, it just isn't playing out that way regardless what your friends at The Western Center for Journalism, Fox News, etc. choose to say on the matter. 

Two articles for your consideration. 

The first, from our friends at Addicting Info, Egberto Willies has a nice piece featuring conservative columnist David Brooks of  the New York Times and his comments on last Sunday's "Meet The Press." In short, Mr. Brooks suggests the following to the notion that the White House and former Secretary of Hillary Clinton are co-conspirators in a massive cover-up. 

"There is an underlying narrative here which I actually think is wrong. The underlying narrative is it says this bunch of technically pure nonpolitical and then they produce a product which is then doctored by a bunch of political people either at State or at the Whitehouse; my reading of the evidence is that a very terrible event happened at a CIA, basically a CIA facility, they went into intense blame shifting mode, trying to shift responsibility onto the State Department, onto anywhere else, and the State Department pushed back. They said no, it is not our fault. It’s you facility. And so they push back and they say why we are suddenly releasing information that we haven’t been releasing so far. So the CIA was super aggressive, there was some pushback, out of that bureaucratic struggle all the talking points were reduced to mush and then politics was inserted into it. So I don’t think we should necessarily say this is politics intruding on a CIA pure operation."

Read the entire article here... 
The other article worth reading is from the Maddow Blog, by Steve Benen which addresses the alleged "cover-up angle". Once more, there appears to be no "there" there as the various claims wilt...

The White House yesterday afternoon released the inter-agency communications that went into crafting the "talking points" requested by Congress last September. Lawmakers already saw these materials months ago -- they found nothing controversial at the time -- but Republicans and the media decided it was time to see them again.
So, the administration, eager to put the matter to rest, released the documents. In turn, we learned what we already knew: there was no cover-up; State and the CIA engaged in a predictable bureaucratic "tug of war"; and this:
The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago.
And with that, everything Republican conspiracy theorists desperately wanted Americans to believe -- there's a scandal; there's a cover-up; there's evidence the White House manipulated and lied about a crisis for political ends -- suddenly evaporated before our very eyes.
Read the full article here


I don't think for a moment that Darrell Issa is going to go quietly into that good night. Why would he? He's getting a ton of facetime, is essentially in a "can't lose" position and apparently has no qualms whatsoever about politicizing the deaths of four Americans. Which is all he's doing. He's earning some chips for down the road in his career and who knows when and where he'll decide to cash those babies in? He's only 59, former Army guy, etc. so perhaps another attempt at the Senate might be on the horizon someday? Vice Presidential nominee someday for someone? Who's to say?  

It would be so much better if this time and energy were put into fortifying our Middle East operations for both the State Department and the CIA. Lessons should be learned from Benghazi and hopefully avoid another tragedy in the future. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No, the United Nations is not in cahoots with President Obama to come and take your guns...

Have you heard the one about the United Nations and President Obama, teaming up to find a "back door" to overturn our right to own a gun? You know, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution gets basically neutered on a global technicality? Its called the United Nations Arms Treaty. Usually, fears about things like this are spread by "concerned" relatives and hard line conservative/libertarian types who see the Federal Government as some sort of out of control, good squad scheming up ways to strip us of our Constitutional rights, our property, our freedoms, our liberties, our faith, our Christmas trees and our healthcare. And of course, our guns. Absolutely, our guns.

If we were to try and find a poster child for these type folks, I might suggest my cousin, but he's not famous enough to be a poster child on the national level that these sort of things require. We need someone with a higher profile.


Of course...

This guy...

Alex Jones, talk show host and professional conspiracy theorist, is convinced that the United Nations Arms Treaty has been designed to ultimately produce a complete gun/weapon free populous here in the United States so when the Government decides its time to unleash its secret robots and elves and kill all but the super wealthy because they don't need us anymore, we won't shoot them in the face.

Its all much ado about (probably) nothing. The treaty has no enforcement mechanism, only applies to international transfers/sales, states in its preamble that its not concerned with "the legitimate trade, lawful ownership and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities." Further, it has no impact on private US gun owners weapons. It doesn't circumvent our 2nd Amendment whatsoever. A condition that has been insisted upon by the US since the beginning of treaty negotiations. Finally, two additional things have to happen for this un-enforcable treaty to go into un-enforcable international law. It must pass the United States Senate with a 2/3rds majority as all treaties must before it can be recognized. Trust me when I tell you that there's no way that 67 sitting Senators will endorse this. Not going to happen. The other thing that has to happen is that the President of the United States must also sign it, something that is not a given for President Obama given the fallout from the impact of the mis-information.

This is probably a good thing because currently, there is not a "standard" for the international selling and transfers of arms. We should have one that the civilized nations of the world agree with and comply. We have internationally recognized "standards" for T shirts. Why not weapons?


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dick Cheney should be quiet...

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a guest on Fox News's Hannity program this week and made some statements about the Benghazi situation that are worth looking at.

"It’s one of the worst .. incidents in frankly that I can recall in my career. It put the whole... capability claiming the terrorist problem is solved once we got Bin Laden that Al Qaeda was over with. If they had told the truth about Benghazi that it was a terrorist attack by an Al-Qaeda affiliated group it would have destroyed the false image of competence that was the basis of his campaign for re-election. Well they lied!" 

The death of four Americans working to advance the goals of the United States is not something we should dismiss lightly. Does it really compare to all the deaths, injuries, damage to Iraq, Afghanistan, national reputation, etc? I don't know. Strictly speaking on the issue of scale, perhaps not. Probably not. But viewed in a different light, its surely still pretty bad. Without assigning blame, I can safely say that preparations for Ambassador Steven's safety were lacking. I'm not prepared to suggest how, but its hard for me to accept a premise that everything that could've been done had been, and that sorry, it was just his and three other's time. Blame the CIA, State, the Administration, Congress, etc. in varying doses if you please, but I'll mostly defer to the report Admiral Mike Mullins and former ambassador Thomas Pickering released last December citing issues at State which produced, "Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies resulted in a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

Mr. Cheney felt compelled to suggest that "they" assuming he means the Obama Administration, claimed that the "terrorist problem is solved once we got Bin Laden, that Al Qaeda was over with." Why he felt compelled to make such a statement is beyond me, because those claims were never said by the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration DID say things like "Al Qaeda is on the run," "Al Qaeda is decimated," "...on the path to defeat." Which is quite different than suggesting that the terrorist problem was "solved" or that Al Qaeda was "over."

Mr. Cheney shows no hesitation when it comes to criticizing Mr. Obama or this Administration.Which is fine for talk show hosts and entertainers like Sean Hannity to do, but not so much for former Vice Presidents who have decades of public and elected service experience. Mr. Cheney's legacy will be determined by smarter writers than me, to be sure. Cheney is a polarizing figure, not unlike President Obama in some ways. Some find him to be a brave and faithful patriot who has served this country well, others find him to be a self serving, cold-hearted opportunist who has done tangible harm to the reputation of the United States around the globe. The truth, is, probably somewhere in the middle, and time and the wisdom of historians will decide where Mr. Cheney really falls on the conduct continuum.

Its unbecoming for Mr. Cheney to appear in these forums like the Hannity shows, and behave the way he does. It would be difficult for anyone to convince me that he has improved his reputation or legacy by his repeated appearances. Nor do I think he would've condoned this sort of conduct from a former sitting Vice President to a current Administration. Former VP Al Gore even showed restraint on criticizing the sitting POTUS/VP....

I could be wrong, but I think Mr. Cheney would've been better served by taking the approach his former boss, George W. Bush has taken, which has been to avoid publicly criticizing President Obama and Administration.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

And the budget dance continues...

Great read this morning by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post on the on-going budget silliness...

An excerpt:

“House Republicans, after howling for years about Senate Democrats' failure to pass a budget, are refusing to work out a compromise now that Senate Democrats have finally passed a budget. Democrats, after insisting for years that a budget resolution was unnecessary, are outraged that Republicans aren't conferring with them to hammer out a resolution. Republicans, after berating Democrats for enacting Obamacare and other bills behind closed doors with extra-parliamentary procedures, are insisting that any talks with Democrats be behind closed doors with extra-parliamentary procedures. Democrats, meanwhile, have suddenly become allergic to closed-door meetings and are insisting on a public "conference committee" and the "regular order."”

Got that?

And this...

Into this farce on Tuesday strolled NBC News’s Chuck Todd, who agreed to host a “discussion” with top budget negotiators at deficit hawk Pete Peterson’s annual Fiscal Summit. But there was a catch: The parties wouldn’t discuss the budget together."

Good grief...

Click here to read the entire piece....


Saturday, May 4, 2013

"This is what we live for..."

The 2013 National Hockey League playoffs are underway.

Its a time like no other. In a sport like no other. I'm 52 years old and can remember following the Pittsburgh Penguins on the radio when I was 9 years old. Other than my immediate family I suppose, its the longest love affair I've ever had. Or will.

There is something special to hockey that I haven't seen from the other major sports come the playoffs. Many will beg to differ and I respect their opinions, but having followed baseball and football as well as hockey since I was a kid, I can say for me at least, nothing equals the high drama of the NHL playoffs.

Here is an extraordinary video presentation that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) showed a short video feature prior to game one on the first night of the playoffs. Covering all eras, it is tastefully and powerfully done. The producer who deserves all the credit is Mr. Tim Thompson, who works for the CBC. Well done, Mr. Thompson, well done!

Enjoy it...

(h/t Hockey Unfiltered/Sirius XM)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"I thought Obamacare was going to lower my health insurance premiums???"

"I thought Obamacare was going to lower my health insurance premiums???"

Well, maybe...

According to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health & Human resources, she says we'll see some of both.

From Sarah Kliff in Wonkblog (3/29/13)...

Women are going to see some lower costs, some men are going to see some higher costs,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Tuesday. “It’s sort of a one to one shift … some of the older customers may see a slight decline, and some of the younger ones are going to see a slight increase.”

As some of the skimpier health care plans are beefed up to meet new federal guidelines, some younger people, may see rates rise. Others, like some women and older Americans, may see rates fall due to new restrictions on how insurance companies can set prices, specifically regarding age or gender. 

Added to the overall question of out of pocket expenses for healthcare is the impact of the subsidies, which take effect in 2014. 

The Affordable Care Act isn't some magic thing that lowers everybody's premiums and gives more of everything to everyone. Its most effective about increasing access to the uninsured, which is just one of the "three legs" of a health care system. The other two legs are quality and cost. The ACA does have components that attempt to address those two legs, but they pale in comparison to the access improvements. 

Its also important to remember that health insurance premiums have been increasing since the 1990's. They would likely continue to increase with or without the ACA ever being enacted. 

Going forward, the ACA restricts health insurance companies from setting their rates based on pre-existing conditions, health status or gender which have resulted in years of increased premiums and many people being unable to purchase health insurance. Now, insurers are only permitted to consider single person vs. family plan, geographic area, age (with limits) and smoker or non smoker (again, with limits.) 

We know that without the ACA, our premiums would've likely continued to increase. Now, for many, those increases may not be as severe.  Also keep in mind, that millions of Americans will now have access to private health insurance, which the government will help pay for if they can't afford it. If the ACA had included a Public Option, we might be seeing lower prices as one of the effects of a public option would have been to pull the market price down by offering a insurance product that didn't have to return earnings/profits to its shareholders, didn't have to allow for high administrative costs and certainly no allowance for exorbitant CEO salaries. The Urban league says it this way

The arguments around the public plan too often ignore what we believe is the central reason for including a public plan as a component of reform: that health insurance markets today, by and large, are simply not competitive. And as such, these markets are not providing the benefits one would expect from competition, including efficient operations and consequent control over health care costs. We believe that the concentration in the insurance and hospital industries that has taken place over the past several years has been a significant contributor to this problem. The role of the government plan is to counter the adverse impacts of market concentration and, in doing so, slow the growth in health care costs.

Conservative Democrats are directly responsible for the lack of a public option, but there was zero support for it from virtually any Republicans either. The CBO estimated that a public option could've saved 100 Billion dollars over ten years, but despite that, it wasn't enough to bring even fiscal conservatives on board.

The next few years are going to be bumpy. The exchanges aren't going to function smoothly at first. There are gaps in coverage for too many Americans who make too much to qualify for subsidies but can't afford their premiums. We know there's going to be problems, but then we will also see problems we haven't anticipated. In time, they will get worked out. All large social programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have had major growing pains. You can also count on many conservatives, conservative leaning media outlets like Fox News and RW talk radio, blogs, etc.  to put those mistakes, errors and screw-ups front and center for all to see on a 24/7 basis. It won't help a damn thing except to possibly motivate the government to throw everything they can at making it as smooth a rollout as possible. I predict it won't be good enough and we'll all get sick of hearing how badly its going.