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Monday, May 27, 2013

The Middle-Class Kentucky Derby

The place to be on Memorial Day weekend in Fort
Worth is The Colonial. (Star-Telegram/Paul Moseley)

Normally, the marquee sporting event in the month of May, at least for high-society types, is the Kentucky Derby. The Bluegrass State’s upper class traditionally flocks to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, and you can count on every network’s early-Saturday-morning sort-of-news program—be it Today, FOX & Friends or Good Morning America—to send at least one of their reporters out to Louisville to educate their viewers about the right bourbon to buy.
Here in the Metroplex, however, our social/sporting event of the month takes place toward the end. It doesn’t involve horses or a bed of roses, and it lasts a hell or a lot longer. But it’s a magnificent spectacle, and I like it.
Since 1946, the pros have come to Fort Worth's Colonial Golf Club for one of the PGA's five annaul "invitational" tournaments. For decades, it was known simply as the Colonial National Invitational Tournament. Now it's the "Crown Plaza Invitational," but not even crass corporate sponsorship can mar this major event, rich as it is in history and tradition. It's our Kentucky Derby, but with less pretense and more walking.
Forget the mint julep. The traditional beverage here is the frozen margarita. And, you likely won’t find women sporting ridiculously gaudy hats, but you will get an idea of what the appropriate attire is for those who want to spend the day outside in the hot, humid climate without looking like a slob.
There’s no "Millionaire's Row" here, either (unless you count the houses on Country Club Circle); celebrities who show up, and there are a few, are forced to watch alongside the common folk. (Yes, "VIP guests" get special treatment, such as access to the 19th Hole Lounge, but if you want to see the pros golf up close and in person, then you'll have to find a spot outside the ropes just like any other spectator.)

Businesses with high-end products/services to hock have recognized that the Colonial presents a fantastic marketing opportunity. In recent years, they've taken to setting up tents at the tournament with chairs, refreshments and air conditioning to lure in their target demographic. Call it a sales pitch, but it's the most pleasant and comfortable sales pitch I've ever experienced.

Local charities and other causes--everything from high school booster clubs to Harris Methodist to the Girl Scouts--man the concession stands. Patrons, including yours truly, are more willing to pay the egregiously marked-up fare if the profits go to a good cause.
This year, the attendees were disappointed that local favorites Jordan Spieth and J.J. Henry didn't do better, but Boo Weekley's victory was by no means unwelcome.

That's all well and good, you may think, but what does any of this have to do with Memorial Day? Is the purpose of this day not to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country? Well, as it so happens, the Colonial offers free admission to military personnel and their families through Carswell AFB, so there!
If you live in or near the Metroplex and have never been to the Crowne Plaza Invitational at the Colonial, then you absolutely must go, whether or not you can get in for free.
Finally, because it is Memorial Day, Right-wing_Genius would like you to watch this video (if you haven't already), featuring his grandmother and one of my very dear friends. Thank you to all who have served our country at home and abroad.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The GOP Won’t “Overplay its Hand” on the Obama IRS scandal...Because it Can't

It’s only been a couple weeks since news broke that the IRS unconstitutionally targeted conservative groups/organizations for additional scrutiny and harassment in the run-up to the 2012 election, and already, President Obama’s most ardent apologists are acknowledging the severity of this problem, calling the White House out on its arrogant mendacity and joining Republicans in their efforts to uncover the truth and bring all culpable parties to justice.
Yeah, right.
Actually, many on the Left have been trying to shift the focus from what is clearly a serious scandal involving unconstitutional acts by the government to...the GOP. But how? Republicans, whose role in this sordid affair (if any) is limited to that of victims, are rightly incensed by what in all likelihood was a calculated political efforts to boost the electoral prospects of the president and other Democrats by hamstringing conservative groups and individuals.
Well, as gifted as the Left is at creating alternate realities, even they can’t inculpate the GOP in this mess, it’s pushing a different narrative: Republicans are eagerly ginning up controversy and trying to capitalize on these so-called "scandals", but they're so blinded by their utter contempt and disdain for the president that they're already overreaching and blowing these things way out of proportion, oblivious to the pitfalls of ganging up on a president who's still a lot more popular than they are.
Charlie Cook, an idiot, has been pushing this narrative with the utmost vigor in National Journal. Last week, he wrote that “Republicans Should Go Easy on Obama. (I tried to find where Cook had written the same or something similar about Democrats and President Bush, but I could find no such case.) On Tuesday, he claimed that Republicans are so blinded by their “hatred of Obama” that “they can’t see how little impact the 'scandals' have had on public opinion.” (Yes, he actually put "scandals" in quotation marks.) 
“The simple fact is that although the Republican sharks are circling,” Cook wrote, “there isn’t a trace of blood in the water.” He based this on an out-of-context quote from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the results of two polls (one of which was an outlier that pegged Obama’s job-approval rating at 53%, five percentage points higher than the current RCP average, and the other being Gallup, which as we know nailed President Romney’s margin of victory in the 2012 election).
Cook recites these polls in his latest article, in which he likens the bipartisan investigation into to the impeachment of Pres. Bill Clinton that proved to hurt Republicans more than the president: “The current situation is reminding many folks of the impeachment controversy in 1998” he says, raising the question of how many “folks” Cook talks to who don’t think exactly like him. “Blinded by their hatred for President Clinton, Republicans made irrational decisions then, and they are making the same mistakes today.”
Another National Journal contributor, Ron Fournier (who is not an idiot but is pretty obtuse) yesterday accused RNC Chairman Reince Priebus of “demonizing, politicizing and overreaching just enough to jeopardize his cause.” This is the same Ron Fournier who earlier this week expressly stated that the White House “has demonstrated an inability and/or unwillingness to tell the full truth about the IRS scandal and a spate of other controversies.” Either Fournier is suffering from some kind of bipolar disorder or he believes that the Obama White House’s serial dishonesty is just as consistent with innocence as culpability. 
Stuart Rothenberg, who is usually more astute, couldn’t resist the same faulty comparison Cook made. In a blog post entitled, “Will Republicans Screw Up Again? Some Are Already Overreaching, Rothenberg mused:  
Republicans failed to capitalize on President Bill Clinton’s inappropriate conduct by over-playing their hand and pushing impeachment. Not only did they fail to drive him from office, the GOP ended up losing a handful of House seats in the 1998 midterms instead of adding seats as initially expected.
Republicans allowed themselves to look as if they were primarily interested in scoring political points and overturning the results of the 1996 election, even if it meant paralyzing the government.
That same danger exists once again for the GOP.
With fundraising playing such a huge part in our politics, some conservative groups will be tempted to use the trifecta of controversies to play to their bases to boost anger and fundraising.
This, in turn, will make the issues appear more and more partisan, giving the president the same opportunity that Clinton used when he sought to rise above “politics” and called for members of both parties to address public policy challenges.
He then undermined his own argument by describing some of the differences between 1998 and 2013 that make any comparisons of the two situations sound ridiculous.
I’ll spare you excerpts from the ramblings of ditsy hacks like Joan WalshGreg Sargent and Michael Tomasky; let it suffice to say that they've been even more defensive in their commentary on these affairs.
The logical rebuttal to these warnings of Republican “overreach” is simple. Republicans won’t overreach on—and won’t overblow—these scandals, esp. the IRS scandal, because they can’t. Yes, you could conceivably say something that exaggerates the magnitude of any one particular scandal (though I’ve yet to hear any such thing from a Republican to date), but the cumulation of these things—from the abject incompetence of the ill-conceived (and even more poorly executed) "Fast & Furious" operation to administration’s repeated prevarication about Benghazi to the possible unconstitutionality of the Justice Dept. preying on reporters and the definite unconstitutionality of the IRS’s treatment of conservatives—is far greater than any scandal or combination of scandals involving a U.S. president and his administration.
Sure, other presidents have done terrible and inexcusable things. Andrew Jackson forced thousands of Cherokee (including my great-great-great-great grandparents) to take leave of their homes in the southeastern U.S. and trudge miles westward in a journey that killed thousands of them and injured countless others. L.B.J. and his administration repeatedly misled Americans about the Vietnam war and continued to send American soldiers, many of whom were drafted, to die and/or suffer serious bodily harm in the jungles of southeast Asia after it became clear they were fighting a losing battle. Richard Nixon...well, we know what he did. And, don’t get me started on F.D.R.
Whether or not these or other nefarious deeds by part presidents fit the definition of “scandal” is a discussion for another time. I’m not saying the pain and suffering caused by the Obama Administration’s actions is worse than the Trail of Tears, but unlike Obama, Jackson had the legal authority to do what he did.
In addition to the unconstitutionality of the IRS’s actions, there’s another compelling reason why the gravity of that particular scandal can’t be overstated. As I explained in a YouTube video yesterday, the effects of the IRS’s misdeeds were, among other things, to unfairly hamstring conservative efforts in the 2012 campaign. Libertarian/Republican candidates and causes were deprived of much-needed capital during a critical election cycle. Who knows how many races would have turned out differently had the playing field been level?
I don’t mean to invite people to reconsider what has already come to pass, and I certainly don’t want to dwell on what might have been. This much is undeniable, however: as long as even one politician elected in a close race in 2012, the outcome of which might have been different had the IRS not engaged in these unconstitutional practices, is still in office, we are still living with the consequences of what the IRS did, and that means this scandal still has legs. In that sense, nobody is “overreaching” just by pulling out all the stops to make sure that the truth will come out and all complicit parties will be exposed and brought to justice.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Obama-Nixon Comparison Is Indeed Appropriate

Steve Chapman, the Chicago Tribune columnist and editorial writer whose semiweekly musings range from the sentient to the delusional, has convinced me that the comparison of Obama to the late President Nixon is not only justified but apt. How? Well, take a look at this from his latest column:  
In recent days, those people have triumphantly likened Barack Obama to Richard Nixon, particularly on the misuse of the Internal Revenue Service for political advantage. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon because, among other reasons, he tried to cause "income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner."

This, of course, is exactly what the IRS now admits doing when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny. The Treasury Department's Inspector General found, "The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions."

The misconduct happened under the current president. Therefore, Obama = Nixon.

Makes sense to me, except for that "Obama = Nixon” part. The two presidents may be guilty of similar acts, but they’re not the same man. (I recently tweeted my displeasure at the profligate comparisons of Obama to Nixon; people shouldn’t speak so ill of the dead.)
Chapman then explains that he was just setting up a straw man. Equating the two “is like concluding that babies are like poisonous snakes because some of them have rattles." Nice one, Steve, and were that hackneyed quip the worst part of your column, I wouldn’t have been moved to write this post, but then you say, "Maybe information will someday emerge to confirm the conservative suspicion that Obama thuggishly subverted the IRS to win re-election, but so far, it falls in the realm of make-believe."
I’d say it falls in the category of “undiscovered evidence,” the kind that warrants a dedicated, persistent and earnest congressional investigation and the appointment of an independent counsel. Chapman did at least review the history of how Nixon used tax agents as political operatives, but then he went way out on a limb with his assertion that, in "the case of Obama, there is no evidence that he or his Treasury Secretary was aware of the mistreatment of conservative groups -- much less that either of them requested it."
Well, here's what we do know: According to The Associated Press: 
Many conservative groups complained during the 2012 election that they were being harassed by the IRS. They accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires.
The forms, which the groups have made available, sought information about group members' political activities, including details of their postings on social networking websites and about family members.
In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors.
There has been a surge of politically active groups claiming tax-exempt status in recent elections -- conservative and liberal. Among the highest profile are Republican Karl Rove's group Crossroads GPS and the liberal
These groups claim tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (4) of the federal tax code, which is for social welfare groups. Unlike other charitable groups, these organizations are allowed to participate in political activities, but their primary activity must be social welfare.
That determination is up to the IRS.
The number of groups filing for this tax-exempt status more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, to more than 3,400. To handle the influx, the IRS centralized its review of these applications in an office in Cincinnati.
The IRS agents in Cincinnati reportedly came up with a list of things to look for in an application, including the words "tea party" and "patriot." Donors to conservative groups and Republican candidates were harassed, audited and elderly. (Their age is not the IRS's fault, but it is a common trait I've noticed among the conservative/Republican victims of the Obama Administration's witch hunt.) 

Lois Lerner, who runs the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, knew about the targeting of Tea Party groups as early as June 29, 2011, according to the Inspector General's draft report released last week. On Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS's Rulings & Agreements office "held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue." This raises the question of whether then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman perjured himself at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight on March 22, 2012, when he testified, "There's absolutely no targeting." (This was in response to Rep. Charles Boustany's question, "Can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting particular groups based on political leanings?") Yesterday, Shulman testified before the Senate Finance Committee that he learned “sometime in the spring of 2012″ that “there was a list that was being used” to identify political groups for further review and that the term “tea party” was on the list. That may have also been a lie, but assuming for the moment it was true, Shulman did not immediately (or even shortly thereafter) notify the subcommittee of this. Rather, he left a false impression with Congress and the public until this month, when he finally corrected the record. However, if "everyone" means "everyone," then it means that Shulman was clued into the targeting well before he testified to the contrary. Not surprisingly, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself today in a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight. 

As for whether the president and his Treasury Secretary personally knew about this misconduct, here's some "evidence" for Steve Chapman. The White House coordinated with the Treasury Department over "how the IRS would disclose its targeting of conservative groups." And, the White House was caught in another lie on Monday, when Jay Carney acknowledged that, contrary to what he had previously told the press corps, Senior legal Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler was told on April 24 about the IRS audit that showed tax officials unfairly targeted Tea Party groups and that she then told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough "and other senior officials" about the investigation.

So, Steve is wrong about there being "no evidence" that the Secretary of the Treasury knew about the mistreatment of conservative groups, but the rest of that sentence is correct--if by "evidence" he actually means direct evidence that has come out. Circumstantial evidence of the president's culpability in this affair is mounting every day. Let's not forget that it took a considerable while after the Watergate burglary in June 1972 for evidence of Nixon's personal involvement in the cover-up to surface. The fallout from this particular scandal is still in its larval stage. If there's any talk on this subject that falls "in the realm of make-believe," then it's coming from those who are scoffing at and deriding the notion that President Obama's hands are clean in all this. Stay tuned.