Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Other IRS Scandal

While the scandal regarding Lois Lerner and the IRS scrutiny of tea party groups continues to make headlines, the IRS quietly settle a lawsuit about another related scandal. It, too, involves the nexus of non-profit groups, abuse of power by the IRS, and the reelection campaign of President Barack Obama.

The controversy stems from the political battle between two organizations over same sex marriage. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC.ORG) formed in 1980 to advocate for LGBT Americans, including more recently, the right to marry. The National Organization for marriage (NATIONFORMARRIAGE.COM)
advocates for traditional, biblically based marriage. Each possesses the right to advocate on behalf of their causes. Neither has the right, however, to secure the names of donors to their adversaries.

This is exactly the infraction of the Human Rights Campaign with the complicity of someone in the IRS.

The NOM sued the IRS and was awarded a $50,000 judgment.

Read  the somewhat complete story  here

In 2012, the HRC secured from someone in the IRS copy of official filings by NOM that included their donors. The HRC published this list. The liberal media website Huffington Post also published the list. Besides violating federal law, this opens to door to ostracism and intimidation. It changes the nature of how we settle our political disagreements from consent to force.

The individual who secured the documents from the IRS pleaded the Fifth Amendment when questioned about the identity of the IRS employee who provided the documents.

The president of the HRC at the time of the publication of the donor list was Joe Solmonese. He soon resigned his position as head of HRC to serve as co-chairman of President Obama's reelection campaign.

The kind of thing that makes you say . . .  hummmmm.

                                                   The ethically challenged Joe Solmonese

Monday, June 23, 2014

Presidential Protestations

Before we learned about the missing 18 minutes of tape . . .


Before we learned about this missing emails . . .

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Another Reason Not To Care

As the President mulls what additional actions to take in Iraq, more disconcerting news arrives.

The current regime reflects the majority Shiite Muslim population of Iraq. It faces an insurgency of minority Sunni Muslims that has taken over several large cities in Northern Iraq and has threatened to march on Baghdad.

After the announcement by the Obama Administration that the United States would sent several hundred advisers to assist the Nouri al-Maliki government, a popular Shiite cleric threatened an attack upon those advisers.

It appears that the people we intend to assist sees us in a more starkly negative light than those murderous co-religionists who threaten the regime.

The complete report here.

Political Science 101 calls it "kinship rallying." No matter how vicious the factional violence between some ethic or religious groups, they will immediately perceive outsiders as a greater threat. Sometimes this will even move such factions to unite against outsiders before resuming their blood feud.

Another reason to steer clear of the internal affairs of Muslim countries.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Doublin' Down for W

As President Obama considers what actions to take in support of Iraq against an Islamic insurgency, one of the architects of the plan that put us in Iraq in the first place opined on the current crisis.  

Dick Cheney with the assistance of his daughter Liz, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that placed the blame for the deteriorating conditions in Iraq squarely on Obama.

In a quotable piece of rhetorical flourish, Cheney offered the following assessment: 

"Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

(I know this is quotable because everyone writing about Cheney's op-ed is quoting it.)

Read the complete article here. (You may need a subscription.)

Meanwhile, during an appearance on FOX News, however, Cheney found himself challenged by Megyn Kelly. She gave out a little rhetorical flourish of her own: 

Cheney does what all politicians do--they blamed their predecessor. "We inherited a situation . . .  blah blah blah." Politicians can do this because, well, they always inherit situations.

He follows it with another rhetorically clever but flippant comment about the 9/11 hijackers arming themselves with "airline tickets and box cutters." The hijackers did not murder three thousand Americans with tickets and box cutters. They turned jet airliners into air-to-surface missiles.

Cheney ran out of clever ripostes and stammered through the next few seconds of the interview on that element of the so-called "Bush Doctrine" justifying preemptive strikes against hostile nation states, even if no evidence exists pointing to an imminent threat.

Kelly throws some of his own words at him, including some excerpts from this excerpt of an excerpt:

Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.

As for the reaction of the Arab "street," the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are "sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans." Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of Jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991." 

Dick Cheney seems incapable of critical self-examination. And he is not alone. Paul Bremer likewise published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (read it here) in which he revealed himself as oblivious as Cheney about what they wrought in Iraq. And Paul Wolfowitz hit the cable news channels (like here).

They all bring the same message:

It is not time to revisit the original decision to invade Iraq. But ISIS poses the same existential threat as that posed by Sadaam Hussein before we invaded Iraq.

Got that?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

When George Bush Really Is To Blame

President Obama and his supporters have spent much of the last six years blaming George Bush for the failures of the Obama Administration.

As the President mulls over what exactly the United States should do about the recent gains by ISIS in its revolt against the Iraqi government, he finally faces one crisis that he really can blame on Bush.

Bush involved the United States in Iraq as a sideshow following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bush responded well enough. He rallied the nation and vowed to punish those who were responsible. This led to military operations against Afghanistan. Despite pleas by American special forces for more boots on the ground, Bush decided to follow the advice of Donald Rumsfeld to leave only a "small footprint" in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in order to stomp someone's ass, it requires a big footprint. Instead of deploying the necessary forces to capture Osama bin Laden and destroy his one thousand plus fighters in Tora Bora, the Bush Administration elected to aid the Northern Alliance in its war against the Taliban and depend upon Pakistan to seal the border and help capture bin Laden. While the Northern Alliance did oust the Taliban, bin Laden slipped across the border with Pakistan, where he remained hidden for a decade.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, the administration and its supporters began beating the drums for war with Iraq--a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Conservatives traditionally warn about the unintended consequences of government action in both domestic and foreign affairs. Not so this crowd.  A speech by Dick Cheney in 2002, with the drumbeats of war in the background, reveals the astonishing miscalculation of the Bush Administration about war with Iraq:

"Another argument holds that opposing Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world, and interfere with the larger war against terror. I believe the opposite is true.

Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.

As for the reaction of the Arab "street," the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are "sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans." Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of Jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991." 

The removal of Sadaam Hussein, as tyrannical as he was, failed to enhance the prospects of "freedom loving peoples" create conditions that would enhance their peace and happiness. Instead, Iraq has descended into a sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Meanwhile, Iraq's Christian community has suffered horrendous treatment from both Sunnis and Shiites. In 2003. Iraqi Christians number over one million. Now there are less than 400,000. Iraq seems to be experiencing the "greater troubles" that Cheney so cavalierly disregarded.

Today the Shiite government of Iraq has lost control of some major cities in northern Iraq to the ISIS. It is only a matter of time before an assault begins on Baghdad. President Obama has some difficult decisions ahead. And as he considers those decisions, he can thank one person--George Bush.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Traitor

The trade for POW er hostage er captive Bowe Bergdahl not only generated more heat for the Obama Administration about "negotiating with terrorists," but also brought back to the surface old speculation about the events surrounding his capture.

Bergdahl apparently grew up in a conservative Christian home in Idaho. His parents home schooled him and they attended the Church of the Big Wood, part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (And they are "orthodox"--if you go golfing on Sunday, you might get a visit from one of the church elders.)

Searching for something larger in life, Bowe eventually joined the military. Sometime after beginning a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Bergdahl  grew hostile to the mission in Afghanistan. Unfortunate for Bergdahl, as a private citizen you can oppose the political decisions about when and where to deploy troops. As a member of the armed forces, you cannot. He walked off his post and eventually found himself captured by one of the many militias. Read one of the earliest and most thorough accounts here.

Once Bergdahl is released from the hospital, we will learn more.

Bob Bergdahl, his father, has remained fairly conservative during his son's captivity. He has address local Republican Party meetings. And when in Washington DC he worships at Sterling Presbyterian Church, another Orthodox Presbyterian communion. (See its website here.) He apparently grew a beard to chronicle the time that he son spent in captivity and learned Pashto, one of the tribal languages of Afghanistan. He, too, apparently has grown disenchanted with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. And when he praised god for his son's release in the Pashto language, he created even more controversy. Like most of us average American citizens, Bergdahl is not that "media savvy" perhaps had no clue to the visceral reactions that most American's experience if they saw his appearance.

So what happens when a traitor, or at least a deserter, come home? Usually, that would be a court martial and perhaps a new tour of duty in Leavenworth, Kansas. After President Obama invited the Bergdahl's to the White House for the announcement of their son's release, that scenario has been rewritten.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Trader

The controversy over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange was exacerbated by arrogance of the Obama Administration. It seems to grow more arrogant even as it grows more incompetent.

First, it may have violated the law. While the President has traditionally enjoyed a prerogative in the matter of prisoner exchanges in times of war, in this more murky age of "the war on terror" Congress enacted some legal requirements before the President makes any release or exchanges of prisoners held at Guantanamo. Specifically, it requires a 30 day notice.

The President clearly violated the law.

The National Security Council explained its disregard for the law in the excerpt below:

"With respect to the separate 30-day notification requirement in Section 1035(d), the Administration determined that the notification requirement should be construed not to apply to this unique set of circumstances, in which the transfer would secure the release of a captive U.S. soldier and the Secretary of Defense, acting on behalf of the President, has determined that providing notice as specified in the statute could endanger the soldier’s life. In these circumstances, delaying the transfer in order to provide the 30-day notice would interfere with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. soldiers. Because such interference would significantly alter the balance between Congress and the President, and could even raise constitutional concerns, we believe it is fair to conclude that Congress did not intend that the Administration would be barred from taking the action it did in these circumstances."

Read the entire statement here.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration brought out National Security Adviser Susan Rice, whose "talking points"  on Benghazi generated such controversy. Either the Obama Administration learned nothing from that experience or at this point they just don't care.

The administration's arrogance is exceeded only by its incompetence.

Every "video taped" appearance by one of the administration's officials now basically constitutes a "blooper reel."

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Trade

The Obama Administration ignited yet another controversy with its recent exchange of  American soldier Bowe Bergdahl for five members of Afghanistan's Taliban. The exchange raised many questions--some unanswered and others answered poorly. Part of the confusion comes from the vagueness of how we define terrorism and the complex relationship between what are commonly called "terrorist organizations" and the states that host them.

Some critics claim that Obama violated a traditional American practice of not negotiating with terrorists.So is this an American tradition? Do we negotiate with terrorists. Of course,we do. You can read about it here.

Is the Taliban a terrorist organization? That depends on one definition of terrorism. Few can agree on what exactly constitutes a terrorist group. Originally, the term terrorism referred to acts of violence or hostage taking committed against civilians by private paramilitary non-state entities in the pursuit of some political objectives. Some terrorist groups expanded their targets to include military and diplomatic facilities of their perceived enemies.

So is the Taliban a terrorist organization?

Historically the Taliban they emerged an Islamic Fundamentalist political movement devoted to securing power and imposing Sharia law on Afghanistan. It achieved power after expelling the Russians with the help of thousands of Arab Muslim foreign fighters, some of whom joined rival militias. Once in  power, it found itself engaged in a civil war against these other militias. Al-Qaeda, a terrorists organization by any definition, supported the Taliban against these rival militias. In fact, some observers speculated that the political viability of the Taliban became dependent upon the support of the foreign fighters affiliated with Al-Qaeda and that the Taliban and the government of Mohammad Omar even had no control over them. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States deposed the Taliban and established elections for a replacement government. The Taliban continues its civil war, but this time as the outsider trying once again to regain control over Afghanistan.  In a civil war, of course, EVERYONE is a soldier or a potential supporter of one side or the other. The makes life a living hell for the many Afghans, caught in the middle between two or more fighting forces.

The vagueness can even be seen in the confused way in which US policy makers allude to the Taliban. When the Taliban ( or at least the militias that later coalesced into the Taliban) opposed the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan referred to them as "freedom fighters." When the Taliban opposed the United States, George W. Bush referred to them as "terrorists." Even today the State Department does not categorize the Taliban as a terrorist organization.

After Bowe Bergdahl went missing, the Department of Defense listed his status a missing or captured. It later updated his status as captured.

That does not tell us whether is considered him a prisoner of war or a hostage of terrorists.

And was the trade an advantageous one for the United States? Not on its face. Yes, as we continue our withdrawal from Afghanistan, we need secure the release of any captives. Whether we consider Bergdahl a hostage or a prisoner of war, however, it seems pretty clear that he became a captive after an act of desertion. In exchange, we traded some very high profile Taliban officials. One-for-one prisoner exchanges during wartime disappeared decades ago, but this exchange seems way out of proportion.

Next up: The Trader