Monday, May 20, 2013

The Real IRS Scandal

The Nutty Ones have been raising a squall because the IRS used political words like "Tea Party" in a group's name as cues to investigate whether the group had possibly violated laws regulating political campaigning by tax-exempt nonprofits. The teabaggers, who are naturally paranoid anyway, started screaming "the government is out to get us!" --even though none of the conservative groups were denied their applications.

And in fact, that seems to be the real scandal. Many of those groups should have been rejected.

The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights covered the story and looked into it quite a bit further. The first part of their article is common knowledge, so I'll skip down. I'm going to copy a big chunk.
The Inspector General’s report found that in the “majority of cases, we agreed that the applications submitted included indications of significant political campaign intervention.” (p. 10). In fact, only 91 of the 296, roughly 31%, of the applications reviewed for the report did not have “indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In other words, more than two thirds of those flagged for processing by a team of specialists had those indications.

IREHR Investigation Reveals Further Questionable Activity
That sort of political campaign intervention would normally disqualify a group from 501(c)(4) status, but the deluge of Tea Party applications combined with the politicization of the process has allowed them to slip through. A closer look by IREHR at the activities of some of the Tea Party groups that are currently under review or have received non-profit status from the IRS, reveals a difficult and dangerous situation.

The First Coast Tea Party Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida, for example, which applied for 501(c)(4) status in 2009 and received it in 2011. Commenting about the recent IRS controversy on Facebook, the group declared “We file a tax return, account for every penny.. We do not endorse candidates that is a no no.” Yet the group’s activities included public bragging about directly helping Republican campaigns. In an August 30, 2012 Facebook post, for instance, the group advertised a Jacksonville rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, adding, “bring your chairs and your signs, make sure they know that the First Coast Tea Party is and has been helping their campaign.”

Three weeks later the group declared a “state of emergency” on Facebook, pleading with supporters to campaign for Romney, “FLORIDA FRIENDS, IF YOU LIVE IN ANY OF THESE 3 COUNTIES GET OFF THE COUCH NOW, GET YOUR FRIENDS OFF THE COUCH. GET TO THE REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS AND OFFER AND THEN DO SOME WORK. PHONES, (YOU CAN EVEN DO THESE CALLS FROM HOME) AND WALK AND KNOCK. NOW. WE CANNOT LOSE FLORIDA TO OBAMA.. NOW. THIS IS MOST CRITICAL.” [Emphasis in Original] These weren’t posts from some random supporter on the group’s Facebook page, they were posts from the official account of the organization.

Similarly, the Louisville Tea Party was granted 501(c)(4) status in 2009. Nevertheless, it published a list of “officially tea party endorsed candidates for the 2011 Kentucky primary.” They also published an article “The Rationale for Romney-Ryan,” arguing for Tea Partiers to vote for the Republican candidate.

Then there’s the Katy Tea Party Patriots, which filed for 501(c)(4) non-profit status in 2009. This group actually ran an “Oust Obama 2012” campaign, organizing block-watching with the Fort Bend GOP, and phone-banking against Obama at GOP headquarters in Sugarland and Houston, Texas. Still featured on the frontpage of the group’s website at the time this article was written is an October 4, 2012 article entitled, “Our Country's Future” by Katy Tea Party Patriots President, Darcy Kahrhoff. She urged members to vote for Gov. Romney. "Please take time to talk with friends and family you may have living out of state, and try to convince them to vote for Governor Romney, especially if you have friends and family in Florida, Colorado, or Ohio.  Also, find a Senatorial candidate to support in these states, and go to FreedomWorks to phone bank for these patriots.  Everything you can do to help will matter. We can, and we must, win this!"

Not to be outdone, is the Central Valley Tea Party Inc. This regional California Tea Party group was granted the much more politically limiting IRS 501(c)(3) tax status back in 2009.  It should be noted that this tax-status explicitly prohibits partisan political activity. According the IRS, “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Despite this (c)(3) designation, the group appears to have been involved in partisan political activity. Currently, the frontpage of the group's website features "upcoming events" instructing members to "Volunteer for Measure G," and "Volunteer for Vidak for Senate.” In the latter case, the website simply tells members, "Please volunteer to do phone banking or precinct walking to help win the election."

Further stretching IRS regulations, the group’s newsletter endorsed and advertised conservative candidates. In an article in the October 2012 issue of the Central Valley Tea Party Times entitled, "Why You Should Be Excited to Vote for Mitt Romney," Paul Szopa told fellow Central Valley Tea Partiers to get out and campaign for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, "So it’s time to get excited to vote for the better candidate. It’s time to talk him up to friends and family. It’s time to join with groups like Operation Swing State ( and make calls in support of his candidacy." The group’s “Voter Guide” published on the front page of the newsletter is even less ambiguous, listing all the candidates that the group recommended as well as their positions on all of the ballot measures.

Issues of the publication even featured advertisements for conservative campaigns. The April-June 2012 edition of the Central Valley Tea Party Times features an advertisement for Whelan for Congress on page 27, another for Frank Bigelow for the 5th District California Assembly seat on page 38, and an ad "Elect Richard J. (Rick) Farinelli, Madera County Supervisor District III" on page 39. And the August-September 2010 edition of the Central Valley Tea Party Times features an ad for Diane Lenning a write-in candidate for CA state superintendent of Public Instruction. So does the October-November 2010 edition.

Another Tea Party group granted the 501(c)(3) non-profit status by the IRS, is the Tifton, Georgia-based Tiftarea Tea Party Patriots, Inc., which received the designation in 2010. The group also appears to have engaged in openly political activity, including publicly endorsing candidates. On October 9, 2012, in a post on the group’s website “Are you ready to vote?” the group offered up an endorsement for Romney, “The choice is simple. Obama has stated, He will transform America and acted to do such. Everything this Administration stands for, is Government and control of every aspect of life. This is the pipe dream of a Socialist’s mentality, for in their eyes, you the individual, do not know and cannot do, what is right, so someone else has to make decisions for you, to ensure, you do not make the wrong choices or actions. Or you chose Romney, who does not want to transform America, the greatest nation in history of human kind.  He wants to allow, the individual, to have the right, to succeed and fail on his own regard, while ensuring those freedoms, given by our Creator and to assure those inalienable rights, written about in the Declaration of Independence are retained by their proper owners, ‘We the People.’”

These are but a few of the many examples of political intervention by Tea Party non-profits that IREHR has catalogued. There are many, many more. They’re not difficult to find.  Rather than the so-called scandal cooked up by Tea Party groups, the real criticism of the IRS may be that it has let so many of these groups get away with what are apparently egregious violations.

After the firing of several high level IRS employees over this incident, how likely is it that Tea Party groups will be prevented these sorts of violations in the future? The Tea Party and the IRS “Scandal” The Actual Facts of the Case
The IRS had tax-code violators in their sights, and rather than antagonize them they let them get away with it. That is the real scandal.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Scandals": The Echo Chamber Pulls Out Ahead

I play in a band that performs in bars and restaurants. The first week of March we were playing in a place that has a TV over the bar, which they keep tuned to Fox News. I remember standing there on a break watching it -- everything was about Benghazi. Benghazi? That consulate in Libya that had been attacked six months earlier? What is the news story there?

I watched Rivera, O'Reilly, Hannity, and a bunch of pretty people I did not recognize, as they spoke seriously to the camera. There was nothing else, only Benghazi. The sound was down, I couldn't hear what they were saying, but it was clearly very serious.

A couple of weeks ago, mid-May now, we played in that place again, same thing, Fox on the TV over the bar. Same thing, nothing but Benghazi. I mean, nothing else. According to a UMD database, there were 64 attacks on American diplomatic targets during George W. Bush's term as President. Do you remember any news network devoting their entire programming day to any one of those?

I don't watch the news on television a whole lot. I'll catch about fifteen minutes of it before bed, then fall asleep. As far as I could tell, the issue had something to do with some talking points that had been revised. Maybe Hillary Clinton was supposed to have read every State Department cable message, and she "ignored" one. Is that it?

A couple of weeks ago I noticed The Post was putting Benghazi stories on page one, like "Critics of the administration say that ..." Erin Burnett on CNN started carrying it, as if it were a real news story. Congressmen started holding hearings about the talking points. Republicans were saying it was "bigger than Watergate."

Dick Cheney this week actually said, "I think it’s one of the worst incidences, frankly, that I can recall in my career."

Think about that one. If you concentrate real hard, you might be able to recall another incident during Cheney's career that was just as bad. Hint: it happened on the same date as the Benghazi attack. Hint: Benghazi was attacked September 11th, 2012. Give up?

Some government emails were quoted on ABC and other news media, showing that the administration was trying to make themselves look good, as the media tried to turn this into an actual news story. But it turned out that ABC had never read the emails and was misquoting them to malign the President's administration.

Honestly, the point there seemed to be to neutralize Hillary Clinton as a candidate in 2016 by smearing her with this surprise attack on a remote US consulate. I don't blame a politician for campaigning, but really, don't these people have something else to do? Doesn't it get embarrassing at some point?

Ah, but that's only one scandal. The word now carries an automatic "s" on the end.

The IRS is supposed to evaluate whether groups who apply for tax-exempt status are political or not. Do you suppose having the name of a political party in your name would be a clue? Well they asked for more information from groups with the words "Tea Party" and related jingoistic terms in their organization's name. They approved them all, in fact the only group that was turned down was a liberal one, but still...

... the Acting Commissioner of the IRS got fired yesterday. Do you remember Shirley Sherrod? I'm just saying, go back and look at that one.

Ah, but that's only two scandals.

The Associated Press is up in arms because the government subpoenaed some reporters' phone records. Someone had leaked information that jeopardized a sensitive operation, thought to involve preventing a terror attack in Yemen; they had put people's lives in danger, and the government wanted to find out who did it, so they got phone records to see who was talking to who, and when.

But just a minute. Bradley Manning has been held since July, 2010, for leaking information. Where is the AP when his rights are violated? The Vice President has called Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a "terrorist" for leaking information, why didn't the AP stand up for him?

A: Because they are interested in preserving their own power. Duh.

Just watch. You will see that all of these so-called "scandals" will turn out to be nothing. It is a feedback loop in the news cycle, journalism has come around and is swallowing its own tail and choking on it, loudly.

This is a textbook example of how the rightwing echo chamber works. They started shouting Benghazi-Benghazi-Benghazi until the reverberation drowned out the source of the noise and took on a life of its own, growing louder and louder. Then they added IRS-IRS-IRS and let that reverberate with the other stuff. By the time you get to AP-AP-AP it takes almost no effort for the echoes to spill over into the media and into the public's mind.

Now that plural word "scandals" is everywhere, people can hardly keep them straight, because they are all bull-oney, they are all fabricated controversies, but the sound of the word scandals-scandals-scandals reverberates through the halls of journalism, summarizing the roar that preceded it.

The poor guy on the street can't follow this. He doesn't know if the IRS was listening to AP journalists' phone calls, or if the journalists had been hassled by the government for calling Benghazi an act of terrorism, or what. But he knows there is something bad, the President has done something wrong, he's been caught doing bad things, it must be pretty dang awful if they're talking about it all day long.

America elected a President in 2000 and 2004 and started a couple of wars based on this kind of self-amplifying nonsense. Not a word needs to be true or have substance to it, you just say it over and over and eventually it spills out into the realm of apparent truths. The news starts with, "Some politicians are saying that ..." which is nothing, not news, it is only a report that somebody has said something. Eventually news sources that don't cover the noise machine are accused of bias, and nobody wants that.

That's how the echo chamber works. And it works very well.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Plan B Deadline is Today

Today is the deadline for the government to appeal its politically-motivated age restriction on Plan B, the "day after" pill.

Plan B is a dose of levonorgestrel, an artificial female hormone, that can be taken after intercourse to ensure that the ovum is not fertilized. It is sold as emergency contraception and is needed by women who have been inseminated and need to prevent pregnancy.

Girls hit puberty, the age when they can become pregnant, at the age of ten or eleven, on average. Yet against scientific advice, the Obama administration wants to limit access to Plan B for young women under fifteen.

FDA scientists found that Plan B is safe and recommended making it available to all women over the counter. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a political move, officially made it available for women over the age of fifteen only.

Some reproductive rights groups filed suit, and on April 5th, a court ruled that Plan B must be made available over-the-counter without restrictions to all women. Judge Edward Korman stated that Sibelius had used “bad faith and improper political influence,” and “it is hardly clear that the Secretary had the power to issue the order, and if she did have that authority, her decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

The administration said they would appeal the ruling.

The Washington Post takes the story as of this morning:
The government is running out of time to try to halt implementation of a federal judge’s ruling that would lift age restrictions for women and girls wanting to buy the morning-after pill.

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in Brooklyn last week refused to delay enforcement of his month-old decision while the government challenges his ruling, but said it would have until Monday to appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.

Korman said politics is behind efforts by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to block the unrestricted sale of the Plan B One-Step morning-after pill and its generic competitors.

Justice Department lawyers want the ruling stayed while they appeal.

If the government fails, it would clear the way for over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill to younger girls. The FDA announced earlier this month that the contraception could be sold without a prescription to those 15 and older, a decision Korman said merely sugarcoated the appeal of his order lifting the age restriction. Monday is deadline for govt. to file appeal of morning-after pill unrestricted sales ruling
This was an opportunity for the Obama administration to take a stand on the side of women. It was a good opportunity for the Democrats to fine-tune the crisp line between the "war on women" and policies that support women and their right to determine their own outcomes. Somehow "failing to file the paperwork on time" does not seem like quite the bold statement we would wish from them.

Parents may live in a dream-world where their children consult them about every milestone they reach along the path to adulthood. Ask them this: did you tell your parents when you lost your virginity? Okay, so take it from there, and follow the logic through reality.

Children should be taught the options in a good, comprehensive sex-ed program that starts well before puberty. They should understand how reproduction works, where babies come from, and how to prevent pregnancy until you are ready to have a family. Methods include abstinence, condoms, birth control pills and other methods -- including Plan B, in an emergency. They should know about it and they should be able to use it when they need to, without asking some grown-up for permission.

President Obama has stated that "as the father of two daughters," he supports the age restriction, and said he thinks "most parents" would agree with his policy, which could increase the likelihood of their daughters becoming pregnant if they were to have sex without a condom as adolescents. [ Note: that sentence was updated to clarify what part the President did and did not say himself. ]

A fourteen-year-old girl is almost certainly not ready to be a mother, and it is crazy to intentionally engineer policies so that younger girls are denied access to this important medication. Will the administration let this deadline pass? We'll know by tonight. The administration could take a stand on the side of women, or it could fail to meet a paperwork deadline, with the same effect.