Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The IRS scandal hearing would be hilarious if it wasn't so serious

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearings on Internal Revenue Service malfeasance has produced scenes worthy of a Mel Brooks film, or maybe "Hogan's Heroes" (“I know nussing!”) As of Friday morning, the following had transpired.

Lois Lerner appeared before the committee last Wednesday. She is the IRS director of exempt organizations, which is the office that deliberately targeted organizations with "Tea Party," "Patriot" and other identifiers in their names indicating they were conservative organizations. These organizations not only had their applications for 501(c) tax-exempt status delayed for up to three years, but in many cases were asked for information that is clearly outside the legitimate areas of interest of the IRS, and which crossed the line into unconstitutionality and perhaps illegality.

Ms. Lerner told the Committee in an opening statement that Committee members have already accused her of providing false information to Congress. However, she said, “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”

Having thus stated the case for her innocence, she then invoked Fifth Amendment protections against incriminating herself, and refused to answer any questions.

Translation: "I did nothing wrong, but I won't answer any questions that might show that I did something wrong."

Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked her to reconsider, and when she refused he then dismissed her and her attorney from the hearing room. However, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) objected, pointing out that since Ms. Lerner actually testified by making an opening statement, she should have to stay and answer the lawmakers' questions.

"You don't get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross-examination," Rep. Gowdy said. "That's not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing an opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions," he said.

Ms. Lerner was ultimately dismissed, but with the caveat that she may be recalled. Better late than never, on Thursday she was suspended from her job. With pay.

This is not the first time the long-time federal employee has been suspected of questionable behavior. When she headed the Enforcement Office at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) from 1986 until 2001, there appeared to be politically motivated harassment of conservative groups not unlike what the IRS  did. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an investigation of the Christian Coalition that ultimately cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of lost work.

However, in addition to failing to prove that the Coalition did anything wrong is the question of whether the FEC even had authority to assert the charges it leveled against the Coalition, which was absolved of any wrongdoing in 1999. Following this suspicious investigation Ms. Lerner was promoted to acting General Counsel at the FEC in 2001.

Next to testify was Douglas Shulman, who was appointed by George W. Bush and headed the IRS during the first Obama term. In 2012 he testified before the Committee, saying, "As you know, we pride ourselves in being a non-political, non-partisan organization." He continued, "There is absolutely no political targeting." We now know that was clearly untrue.

In last week's appearance Mr. Shulman denied that he had discussed targeting conservative groups with anyone at the White House in any of the more than 100 times he visited the White House complex between 2010 and 2011.  “It would not have been appropriate to have a conversation with anyone at the White House about the subject of discriminating against conservative groups,” he said.

When asked if he could recall the nature of any of those visits, Mr. Shulman responded, "The Easter Egg Roll with my kids." Seriously.

In response to questioning from Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mr. Shulman replied: "I accept the fact that this happened on my watch and I am very sorry that this happened while I was at the IRS. I feel horrible about this for the agency, for the people there, for the great public servants. I am not sure what else I can say." He could have overtly taken responsibility for his agency's malfeasance while he headed it, and apologized to the victims, but he didn't.

Ms. Duckworth, a military veteran, said that she was "deeply disappointed" by his response, explaining that soldiers serving their country know "you can never delegate responsibility and that you are always responsible for the performance, the training, the actions of the men and women under you."

Former President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read: "The Buck Stops Here." This is a concept foreign to many in this administration. But it is the law of leadership, whether at the department level, or at the chief executive level: Whatever happens on your watch is your responsibility.

Maybe actually holding people accountable for their mismanagement through firings and prosecution will wake up sleeping bureaucrats like Ms. Lerner and Mr. Shulman, and restore the idea of "service" to public service.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What scandals? There are no scandals here. Please keep moving.

The broiling controversies of the Benghazi scandal, the IRS wrongdoing, and the questionable seizure of Associated Press telephone records by the Department of Justice have forced those on the left and those that don't pay much attention to what goes on in the political realm to recognize that our government indulges in improper and oppressive behavior. And this tumultuous atmosphere has spawned some wild and crazy things.     

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program and vociferous gun control advocate, had an epiphany brought on by the federal government's improper behavior. During a roundtable discussion on the show he said, “My argument [for gun control] is less persuasive today because of these scandals.” He went on to explain that “People say, ‘Hey, if they do this with the IRS, asking people what books you read, then how can I trust them with information about my Second Amendment rights?’” There was general agreement among the show’s other participants.

Another unusual thing was former White House senior advisor David Axelrod’s defense of President Barack Obama. He said that the president can't be held responsible for what underlings do. The reason is that our government is so large that no one person can control what all of the two million Executive Branch employees do.

He's right: government is way too big and far too powerful. David Axelrod is a limited government guy. Who knew?

But the fact that government is too big doesn't relieve the President of the United States, whomever that might be at any given time, of the duty to manage the Executive Branch and keep it within its constitutional limits, and to always respect the citizens it serves. Plainly, Mr. Obama has not done that.

In our highly charged political environment, not everything that the president's loyal opposition calls a scandal is truly a scandal. But conversely, everything that Mr. Obama's sycophantic fans wish was not a scandal isn't a scandal, and their efforts to explain them away often border on silliness. Columnist Reg Henry ably demonstrated that with inadequate attempts to downplay a few of them and make them go away.

Of the Fast and Furious debacle Mr. Henry said it "was a crackpot scheme to trace guns to Mexican drug cartels, but it was a hard sell because, as you know, guns don't kill people."

He is obviously correct about it being a crackpot scheme, although that characterization does not do justice to this colossal idiocy. And his sarcastic comment about guns not killing people unintentionally conveyed the truth.

But he's totally wrong about whether Fast and Furious is a scandal. Not only did the the Justice Department fail to achieve the fundamental goal of this misadventure — to trace the guns they provided to the Mexican cartels — but an American Border Patrol officer was murdered with one of them. That indeed is a scandal.

Next, in trying to wish away the Green Energy fiasco, he states, "The Solyndra scandal involved a big waste of public money, but the real offense seemed to be that the administration was promoting solar power. Oh, the horror."

So-called "public money" is money taxed away from taxpayers ostensibly to be used responsibly and for beneficial purposes, not so that billions can be wasted on the personal whim of the president to prop up a preferred industry, one that is so unstable that it cannot succeed even after being propped up. Mr. Henry is apparently unaware that it is neither within the president's nor the federal government's authority to decide which industries succeed and which do not.

In reference to what he called "Benghazi-gate," he cautions us that "it's far from clear what the president knew and when he knew it." But again he misses the point. What makes Benghazi a scandal is not what Mr. Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew and when they knew it, although that certainly deserves an explanation, it's the fact that his administration and/or her department disgracefully failed to provide requested and needed security upgrades before the attack began. Had they acted properly it just might have prevented all four of the murders that resulted from the attack on the Benghazi consulate. And then, there’s the video smoke screen to explain.

Some believe the Obama administration overtly engineered the effort by the IRS to target conservatives, Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations. But others blame this oppressive behavior on a "culture of suspicion" of conservative organizations created by President Obama's near-continuous public criticism of those individuals and organizations. After all, if the president repeatedly makes public statements saying these people are up to no good, shouldn't good bureaucrats try to please the boss and go after the bad guys?                                  

President Obama told graduates of The Ohio State University earlier this month that “you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems. ... They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.” But the swirling controversies that demonstrate actual government tyranny render that advice dangerous and unworthy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The depths of the scandalous Benghazi episode are becoming clear

The following timeline of events is what we know about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya:
• April 5, 2011: Christopher Stevens arrives in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to forge ties with the forces battling Moammar Gadhafi. President Obama appoints him as ambassador to Libya on May 22, 2012.
• February: The U.S. embassy requests and is granted a four-month extension, until August, of a Tripoli-based “site security team” composed of 16 special forces soldiers who provide security, medical and communications support to the embassy.
• March: State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom sends a cable to Washington asking for additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, and later says he received no response. He repeats his request in July and again gets no response.
• April 6: Two fired Libyan security guards throw an IED over the consulate fence.
• May 22: An Islamist attack on the Red Cross office in Benghazi is followed by a Facebook post that warns “now we are preparing a message for the Americans,” and another a month later highlights Ambassador Stevens’ daily jogs in Tripoli in an apparent threat. The Red Cross closed the office.
• June 6: Unknown assailants blow a hole in the consulate’s north gate described by a witness as “big enough for 40 men to go through,” and four days later, the British ambassador’s car is ambushed by militants with a rocket-propelled grenade. The British close the consulate soon thereafter.
• July: The anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims” is posted on You Tube.
• Aug. 14: The US security team leaves Libya, despite Ambassador Steven’s desire that they remain, according to team leader Lt. Col. Andy Wood.
• In the weeks before Sept. 11, Libyan security guards are reportedly warned by family members of an impending attack. On Sept. 8, the Libyan militia tasked with protecting the consulate warns U.S. diplomats that the security situation is “frightening.”
  Sept. 10: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri calls on Libyans to avenge the death of his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al Libi, killed in a June drone strike in Pakistan.

The next night, Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans, including two who disobeyed orders and came to help defend the consulate, are murdered in an attack that was unquestionably not the result of an obscure anti-Islam video.

Even dedicated Obama apologists cannot ignore the evident rising danger leading up to Sept. 11 that included violence serious enough to close the Red Cross office and the British consulate, and the direct violent attacks on the US consulate, and yet the needed and requested security enhancements were not provided.

It gets worse. From The Hill: "High-level staffers removed vital pieces of information tying terrorist organizations to attacks. They knew early on that radical Islamic terrorists participated in the attack. The former Deputy Chief of Mission to Libya, Gregory Hicks, said in the [Congressional] hearing, 'none of us should ever again experience what we went through in Tripoli and Benghazi on 9/11/2012.' He went on to say he had personally told former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at 2 a.m. the night of the attack that it was a terrorist attack. Gregory Hicks also testified that Secretary Clinton's claiming the attack was incited by a YouTube video caused Libyan officials to hinder the FBI's arrival to the scene." For his forthrightness Mr. Hicks was demoted by the State Department.

Some question the veracity of the three witnesses who testified at the Oversight & Government Reform Committee. This is a predictable, if foolish, effort to discredit these witnesses. But these people are not bystanders; they are not people who are going to report on hearsay; they are not political operatives. In fact, Gregory Hicks is a registered Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. These people were directly involved in different capacities before, during and after the attack. They are totally credible, and deserve not only our respect and appreciation, but our attention to their message.

So what went wrong? There are three possibilities: massive bureaucratic incompetence; the administration was asleep at the wheel; or the administration put political considerations ahead of doing the right thing. Negative repercussions of an Islamist terrorist attack on a US facility on the iconic date of Sept. 11, right before a presidential election, drove the administration to concoct an implausible scenario to try to deflect attention from the reality that al-Qaeda had indeed not been vanquished, contrary to Barack Obama's boasting to the contrary.

In answer to Hillary Clinton's asinine question: "What difference ... does it make?" It makes a huge difference. Four people died as a result of your and/or the administration's mishandling of this event, Ms. Clinton, and the people you worked for deserve to know who screwed up, and why.

We hired Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and every other public servant to act in the best interest of the American people and the nation, and expect them to put their personal political considerations aside. That clearly did not happen in Benghazi. There is no greater disservice.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

US negligence in securing the southern border puts us all in danger

Do you have locks on the doors to your home and/or business, and do you lock them? Do you lock your car when you park it at work, at the mall, and other places? Do you insist that people who come to your home knock on the door or ring the bell and be invited in before entering? Would you be offended or angered if people set up housekeeping in your basement or outbuilding without your permission? Would you order them to leave and call the police to have them removed if they refused?

If so, you are among the scores of millions of sensible Americans who understand why we must strengthen border security and revamp our dysfunctional immigration system. And that must be done before taking any sort of action to give illegal immigrants legal status of any description.

The administration wants us to believe that the border is really not so bad: "I can tell you having worked that border for 20 years, it is more secure now than it has ever been. Illegal apprehensions are at 40-year lows," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. Please forgive some cynicism, but that could be achieved by ordering the Border Patrol to apprehend fewer illegals.

But as it turns out, she's just wrong. Customs and Border Protection released data showing that arrests are actually up 13 percent compared with the same time last year when the number was 170,223. It is 192,298 this year. 

This begs the question of where Ms. Napolitano -- who "worked the border" as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, the state's Attorney General, and its Governor -- gets her information. But perhaps it’s not the source of information that is Madam Secretary's problem; instead it is her perverse perspective. In 2009 she said on CNN's "State of the Union" that entering the country illegally is not a crime. No, really. That's what she said. That statement should have sunk her as Homeland Security secretary.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said her state’s border with Mexico is still not secure and called for additional resources to improve border security. Following what she termed an "extensive" aerial tour, she said the border with Mexico continues to be “a gateway” for drug smuggling and unlawful crossings. She called for more fences, drones, Border Patrol agents and National Guard troops.

“The ranchers will tell you, if you sit down and talk to them, that they’re fearful, that the Border Patrol is too far north,” Gov. Brewer said. “They need to get closer to the border because they let [illegal immigrants] go so far [into the state], and then they just sort of blend in." "They’re destroying their land and destroying their cattle, they’re destroying their water. They’re frustrated.”

Texas Senator John Cornyn agrees: "People are coming from around the world through what they know is a porous border to come to the United States without us knowing who they are, what their motives are," he said. "This is a national security problem."

The Boston Marathon bombing reminded us that the threat of terrorism is very real. And the negligence of the federal government in handling border security provides no assurance that along with people looking for work and a better life, and the drug cartels and thugs looking for markets and victims, there are not also terrorists slithering across the border while the government is busy not paying attention.

About the only people who do not acknowledge the disgraceful state of border security are those in Washington like Secretary Napolitano whose responsibility it is to secure it. A March poll of 1,014 adults by ABC News and The Washington Post reflects that eight-in-ten Americans support stronger border security.

But of course the "everybody who disagrees with me is stupid" crowd demurs. They not only think lax border security is a good thing, but also believe that those who think we should actually control who comes into the US are racists. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that 22 percent of liberal participants hold that view.

These folks believe that it is racist to control who gets into the US, and that the country would be better off if we just opened the borders and let anyone in who wants to come in. They may also believe that if you disagree with Barack Obama about anything, you are also a racist. It has been found that these beliefs were arrived at using a very high level of third grade playground logic.

Perhaps since the feds won't block illegal immigrants from crossing the border we should round them up and send them to live with those 22 percent who hate secure borders and love lawbreakers.

The feds get a big fat F in "paying attention to important things." They've allowed millions to expend minimal effort to illegally enter our country; they designed and carried out the deadly "gun walking" fiasco known as Fast and Furious; they ignored numerous warnings about rising danger in Benghazi that ultimately killed four brave Americans; and did not pick up on clear indications of radicalization of the accused Boston Marathon bombers. And next year Obamacare takes effect.