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Monday, May 20, 2013

Scandals, real and fake



Apologies for the irregular posting; my life has been a tad hectic. Frankly, I have felt hesitant to discuss the alleged "Obama scandals," since the two issues that conservatives seem so desperate to talk about -- Benghazi and the alleged IRS targeting of Tea Party groups -- are obviously bunkie-doodoo. (Please forgive the use of technical terminology.)

Yet I'm also disinclined to leap to Obama's defense. Why? Because I still don't like the guy -- for other reasons. Drones are a genuine scandal, yet both the right-wing and mainstream media infrastructures would prefer to keep this issue under-discussed.

Fortunately, all the hype about the two great pseudo-scandals has not had any impact on Obama's poll numbers. In fact, Republican insistence on beating dead horses may have made Obama more popular.

Something similar occurred when Clinton's grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky probe was aired: Although everyone presumed that Clinton's approval numbers would plummet, he actually gained public sympathy. And yes, that testimony included the famous "meaning of is" remark, which seemed reasonable in context.

In case you missed it, a few days ago, Brad Friedman published the internet's best take-down of the IG report on the IRS affair.

Again: Context is all. In context, it seems quite reasonable to use "Tea Party" and similar trigger words to determine whether a political pressure group is masquerading as a tax-exempt social welfare organization. To see what I mean by "context," simply glance at the chart to your left, which proves that the keywords "Tea Party, ""Patriots" and "9/12" figured in only one-third of cases under review. Since polls indicate that these groups appeal to roughly one-third of the electorate, I see nothing wrong with this distribution.

No right-wing group has actually lost its tax-exempt status, although many ought to. In fact, under Obama, the only organization to get into truly serious trouble with Mr. Taxman was, perhaps predictably, a left-wing association in Maine.

The only real scandal here is that the Tea Partiers are being allowed to cheat on their taxes. Must we continue to pretend that these are non-partisan "social welfare" groups?

The Benghazi "controversy" comes down to one word: Horseshit. That's all it ever was.

Once more into the breach dear friends...

All evidence indicates that that video incited a spontaneous demonstration in the city of Benghazi, as occurred elsewhere in the Muslim world. (It now seems likely that that video was created by pro-Romney forces as a provocation designed to incite precisely the sort of havoc it wreaked. We've discussed this scenario in previous posts.) Militants opportunistically used this larger protest as cover for an attack on the consulate -- like red fish swimming in a school of gray fish.

When tasked to untangle so confusing a series of events in so remote a locale, American intelligence needed a few days to figure out who did what and for which reason. One must appreciate the difficulty of gathering information in this case. Electronic eavesdropping can't have offered much help. The protesters probably did not include many people who wanted to step forward and give after-action interviews to the CIA.

One faction of the intelligence community initially believed that the consulate attack occurred when the local protesters got out of control. I presume that this idea came from an on-the-ground source in Libya. But from the beginning, other observers felt that the weaponry used to destroy the consulate was too sophisticated to be the work of an enraged mob of ordinary townsfolk.

And now here we are, months later. The right still keeps trying to transform a temporary period of conflicting intel into a Watergate-style cover-up. What nonsense!

The only good thing to come out of the whole affair is the revelation that ABC News has a "Fox-y" mole among its personnel. For more on that, see here.

Alas, the AP scandal is anything but nonsensical. The extremely important interview with AP President Gary Pruitt (embedded above) clarifies both the facts and their significance.

The origin point for this scandal involves an AP story that the United States had foiled a plot by Al Qaeda sympathizers to mark the anniversary of Bin Laden's death by blowing up an airliner. The AP learned of this story but kept mum at the request of the administration.

At the same time, the White House was telling the press that there was no evidence of a terror plot to coincide with that date. That statement, it seems, was false.

Why the lie? Marcy Wheeler, as always, offers some ideas. What if the AP learned of an "Al Qaeda plot" that was -- at least to some degree -- born in the USA?
And conflicting claims about threats must be what the AP told the White House was newsworthy, because — even though it played a fairly minor part of the original AP story — it is what John Brennan emphasized when explaining why he had to have a conference call that would lead to Richard Clarke figuring out the plot was actually a sting.
I said there was never a threat to the American public as we had said so publicly, because we had inside control of the plot and the device was never a threat to the American public.

[snip]

I — I — what I’m saying is that we were explaining to the American public why that IED was not in fact a threat at the time that it was in the control of individuals. When — when we say positive control, inside control, that means that we (inaudible) that operation either environmentally or any number of ways. It did not in any way reveal any type of classified information. And I told those individuals and there are, you know, transcripts that are available of that conversation, “I cannot talk to you about the operational details of this whatsoever.”
I’m still not entirely [sure] why this was so sensitive to the White House. As I’ve noted, there were several possible ways for Brennan to explain the discrepancy away that wouldn’t have outed their insider.
Provisionally, it looks to me as though we are dealing with the international version of those semi-ersatz FBI terror "stings" which exist purely to make the FBI look effective. I would go so far as to suggest that the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab underwear bomber case may have been one such episode. Many of the mysteries surrounding that incident remain largely unexplained.
Comments:
The so-called 'scandals' are losing air. I read that McConnell and even Ryan have backed off the huge Watergate comparisons to Benghazi. Of course, Rand Paul is still hoisting the flag that all 3 scandals are evidence of something on the order of treason. Or something. The Benghazi attacks resulted in the the loss of life, four Americans including Chris Stevens who by all accounts was a distinguished and effective diplomat. But the investigations haven't revealed anything beyond how dangerous these assignments can be in unstable regions in the world.

Propublica has a good article on the IRS dysfunction, how pulling funds from government agencies can have unintended [or intentional] consequences in how those agencies run. It's a good strategy when you want to prove that government is inherently ineffective--let's drown it in a bathtub. And those 501(4) c's, the social welfare designation where donors are not revealed and taxes deferred? Eighty-five % of those applications are conservative organizations. Funny that.

The AP story is a tangled mess. But I read that Marcy Wheeler piece and if accurate then Holder was lying through his teeth that this incident was 'serious, very serious' and American lives were at risk. From what I've read, the WH was planning to announce the foiled attempt the next day, beat the drum. They wanted to spin it and AP stole their thunder. Holder should be replaced and there is a rumor that Deval Patrick might be the choice. Btw, the outrage over leaks is a Republican favorite and several congress critters have admitted that the WH was simply following their lead. Because we must do what the GOP demands.

Gitmo, drones and endless war is the scandal that no one wants to address. In addition to continued corporate and financial sector fraud and malfeasance. But those? Hardly a paragraph written, nary a shocked Republican legislator or investigation to be seen. Wonder why?

I have no love for Obama but the Republicans are running on empty grudge fumes.

Paggysue
 
Yes, Joseph. Obama gets the shitty end of the stick on a regular basis from conservatives, but he is not innocent. His feckless, timid style of governance has an electro-magnetism.

When an athlete protects his weak side, it frequently results in injury to something else. An overconcern about getting hurt generally means you're gonna get hurt.

Ben
 
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