Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Two out of three ain't bad. But it ain't good, either.

That's like a 67, or a D+. (Same number Julian Castro got in his re-election last Saturday, as I recall. Some people call that "whopping".)

Anyway, two of the three "scandals" were laid to rest yesterday: Benghazi is finally over, and so is the IRS thing, at least for the most part. That leaves Eric Holder, twisting a bit in the wind.

Attorney General Eric Holder is facing what is likely to be aggressive questioning by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee on topics ranging from the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at The Associated Press to the government's handling of intelligence before the Boston Marathon bombings.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he was concerned about the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, which is now the focus of an investigation by Holder's Justice Department. The hearing was to take place Wednesday.

The more time they spend on IRS, the less time there will be for the only thing left that matters.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the Justice Department's secret examination of Associated Press phone records though he declared he had played no role in it, saying it was justified as part of an investigation into a grave national security leak.

If it was so grave, then why wasn't he involved?

Asked about it at a news conference on a separate topic, Holder said he removed himself from the leaked-information probe because he himself had been interviewed by FBI agents as part of the investigation. He said he wanted to ensure that the probe was independently run and to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. It was the Justice Department's No. 2 official, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who made the decision to seek news media phone records, the department said.

"This was a very serious leak, a very grave leak" that "put the American people at risk," Holder said. He called it one of the two or three most serious such episodes he had seen since he became a prosecutor in 1976 but did not say specifically how the disclosure of information about the plot had endangered Americans.

In February, CIA Director John Brennan provided a less-than-ominous description of the plot in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told the panel that "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."

That should be enough contradiction for Republicans on a mission witch hunt war path.

I don't feel bad for the AG. As I posted yesterday, he's probably stayed too long. And he's likely to stick around longer just to keep the GOP from bragging about a scalp on their belt.

Condemnation of the government's seizure of the AP phone records came from both political parties.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called on Holder to resign, saying he had "trampled on the First Amendment."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "the burden is always on the government when they go after private information, especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. ... On the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden."

Declared the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland: "This is activity that should not have happened and must be checked from happening again."

Yeah I thought that was the job of the Congress, too.

Holder is that half-gallon of milk in the fridge with yesterday's expiration date on it. It might still be okay, but it probably isn't. If you have a cast-iron stomach, though, go ahead and drink it.

Me? I'd throw it out. Getting rid of it now might keep the bad bacteria from spreading to other things in the fridge. The longer you wait, the worse it's liable to get.

But whatever you do, don't listen to Morning Joe. They're ALL idiots over there.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Actual governmental scandalous behavior

Though some believe that the Benghazi business will eventually grow some legs, it's not a big deal now and not ever likely to become one. The matter of the IRS targeting tea party organizations is much worse... but to the chagrin of conservatives and their sycophants in the media, still not something that risks much political injury to Obama (or Hillary Clinton in 2016). There is in fact a bigger deal you're not hearing much about yet, and the main reason is that conservatives aren't bitching about it.

First, what's developing with the IRS.

Congress was not told tea party groups were being inappropriately targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, even after acting agency Chief Steven Miller had been briefed on the matter.

Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny, the IRS said Monday.

At least twice after the briefing, Miller wrote letters to members of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without disclosing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, but again did not mention the additional scrutiny — despite being asked about it.

I really like what the 'toonists are doing with this.

Snark at the Tea Pees aside, it's an abuse of power for the Tax Men and Women to have done this, and worse that they tried to cover it up by not telling Congressmen the whole truth about what they were doing.

At the hearing, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, told Miller that some politically active tax-exempt groups in his district had complained about being harassed. Marchant did not explicitly ask if tea party groups were being targeted. But he did ask how applications were handled. 

Miller responded, "We did group those organizations together to ensure consistency, to ensure quality. We continue to work those cases," according to a transcript on the committee's website.

Earlier, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., had raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed. Boustany specifically mentioned tea party groups in his inquiry. 

But in a June 15, 2012, letter to Boustany, Miller said that when the IRS saw an increase in applications from groups that were involved in political activity, the agency "took steps to coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency."

He added that agents worked with tax law experts "to develop approaches and materials that could be helpful to the agents working the cases."

Miller did not mention that in 2011, those materials included a list of words to watch for, such as "tea party" and "patriot." He also didn't disclose that in January 2012, the criteria for additional screening was updated to include references to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.


When members of Congress repeatedly raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed last year, a deputy IRS commissioner took the lead in assuring lawmakers that the additional scrutiny was a legitimate part of the screening process.

That deputy commissioner was Miller, who is now the acting head of the agency. 

There's more at the link above.

The IRS simply can never be a political tool to punish one's opponents. It cannot even take that appearance. Some bureaucrats are going to lose their jobs over it, and they should.

Update: And then there's this -- When the IRS (under Bush) targeted liberal groups.

This news arrives alongside a matter even more disturbing (and less widely mentioned) (that all changed this morning): the disclosure of the overreach by a Justice Department investigation of the Associated Press in reporting the CIA's involvement in foiling another underwear bomber.

AP learned of the plot a week before publishing, but “agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately” due to national security concerns. But, by reporting the CIA’s involvement in foiling the plot, they put AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Asian Peninsula) on notice that the CIA had a window into their activities. The AP’s reporting also led to other stories involving an operative in place within AQAP, and details of the operations he was involved in. That operative, it was feared, would be exposed and targeted by AQAP as retribution for siding with the United States.

John Brennan, who is now the head of the CIA, said at his confirmation hearing that the release of information to AP was an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.” That the Department of Justice would be pursuing information on these leaks is also not new, given Attorney General Eric Holder’s appointment of federal prosecutors to look into the disclosures last year. What is surprising is the large amount of information the Justice Department seems to have acquired in its pursuit:

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The Associated Press released its letter to Holder denouncing the invasion of their records without their consent, calling it an “unprecedented step” and “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.” 

I haven't been a huge fan of Attorney General Holder. Except for his full-court defense of the VRA -- he spoke in Houston at the NAACP convention about it last July -- he's mostly avoided picking the right battles to fight and been a lightning rod for controversy.

I would have rather seen him go the way of several other Cabinet members after the re-election, but it looks like we're stuck with him for another 3 1/2 years. He needs to work harder to avoid embarrassing the administration with his department's overzealousness going forward. And that goes double for whoever inherits the reins at IRS.

Update: More here. And also...

Is This the End for Eric Holder?

The attorney general has been in the middle of controversies over whether to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison and whether to try suspected terrorists in U.S. courts. He has defended the U.S. right to wage drone strikes, to stage the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and to use lethal force against a leader of al-Qaida who was also a U.S. citizen.


It is unclear how Holder fits into the latest firestorm, but he's a battered survivor of many controversies and this could be the one that finally convinces him or Obama that it's time to go.

"Killer Boobs" and other short takes

-- Resist the double entendre'.

As previously mentioned in yesterday's Texas Progressive roundup, and particularly in light of Angelina Jolie's disclosure, I thought I would point again to Amy Valentine's blog-to-book on the topic of surviving breast cancer. My friend Karen Derr did something about it -- she walked 26 miles a few weekends ago; you can too (if you're in Boston this weekend, or Chicago in June.)

If we strongly support women who make the same choice as Jolie -- women who must summon the physical and emotional strength to fight their disease and who must at the same time disregard our society's opinion, evaluation, or judgment of their choice -- then we perhaps change society just a little.

Which is way overdue with respect to women's choices as it is.

-- This is another brick in the wall against conservatism. Of any nationality.

An outspoken nationalist mayor said the Japanese military's forced prostitution of Asian women before and during World War II was necessary to "maintain discipline" in the ranks and provide rest for soldiers who risked their lives in battle.

The comments made Monday are already raising ire in neighboring countries that bore the brunt of Japan's wartime aggression and that have long complained that Japan has failed to fully atone for wartime atrocities.

Toru Hashimoto, the young, brash mayor of Osaka who is also co-leader of an emerging conservative political party (emphasis mine), also told reporters that there wasn't clear evidence that the Japanese military coerced women to become what are euphemistically called "comfort women."

"To maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time," said Hashimoto. "For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That's clear to anyone."

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels.

It's no different in Europe, or Afghanistan, or the United States. Conservatives. Blow. Goats.

-- In reference to the Zombie Apocalypse that is the Texas Legislature at the end of every session (I'm speaking here more of bills than I am sleep-deprived lawmakers), Charles thinks there might be a flicker of hope for Medicaid expansion. As I posted in the comments there, I do not. Paul Burka is right on all counts here. Joe Straus is weak tea, everybody knows it, and those drinking a stronger brew have all but nailed him to a cross.

I'm not surprised and I'm not sorry, as least as it concerns the Speaker. But the real problem for Straus and his long-term prospects as leader of the Texas House -- just as it was when we traded Kay Bailey for Ted Cruz, just as it will be when we eventually trade Rick Perry for Greg Abbott -- is that a replacement only makes it worse for Texas going forward. In the short term, anyway. (Hurry up, Battleground Texas.) More about this in the next...

-- Ted Cruz is probably hurting the Republican party more than he is his presidential aspirations with his TeaBagging platitudes and fomenting the rage of the Freak Right Wing. This ignores both historical precedent (see: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and ultimately Mitt Romney) and popular opinion. While the public is still yawning about Benghazi and the IRS, Republicans who think the Libyan embassy attack is a worse scandal that Watergate cannot find the city on a world map. Even Dick Armey mistook Benghazi for Bangladesh.

If the GOP House indeed wants to take us back to the late '90's and relive Bill Clinton's second term, so be it. That seems to be a tremendous price for them to pay, but they appear not to have learned any lessons from the first go-round. I don't believe the "scandals" they've whipped up have impacted Hilary Clinton's 2016 prospects one iota. 

I further don't think that they will.

If Clinton runs for president and picks a Latino/a running mate -- consider the prospects of what a Castro might mean to turning Texas bluer faster -- then (absent unknowable future events) I seriously doubt whether the Republicans get a chance to sniff the White House until 2032. As ignorant as they are, I believe even the GOP understands this... which is why they are screaming so loudly now. That party is right on the verge of going extinct, and instead of grabbing a life preserver, they grasp at straws.

Once more: not surprised and not sorry.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is thankful for the mothers in their lives as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff has a Q&A with Robert Ryland, the founder of the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee, whose mission is to help get more Democrats elected to county offices in Texas.

As the end of the legislative session draws near the threat of a special session looms. WCNews at Eye on Williamson tries to discern what it all might mean, in The special dance begins and "conservative" confusion.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes John Cornyn is caught in his own obvious hypocrisy. In the Cornyn whacko stupid party world, up is down and down is up. In reality, John Cornyn is a liar.

George P. Bush, Republican candidate for Texas Land Commissioner, has a quasi-rap sheet in Florida. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes that the heir to the Bush dynasty is either a creepy ex-boyfriend or a stalker. It's difficult to tell from just the police report.

At TexasKaos, Libby Shaw explains that the Texas GOP Lawmkers Walk Back Its War on Women. For now. Give it a read.


And here are some more posts of interest from Texas blogs.

Brewed and Never Battered assures us that the craft beer bills are still on track in the Lege.

BOR reminds us that Texas' Senators are a big part of the reason why Texas has so many federal judicial vacancies.

TFN Insider notes that despite some recent bursts of sanity, our State Board of Education still has a lot of loons on it.

Concerned Citizens laments the anemic turnout in the San Antonio municipal elections.

Nonsequiteuse discusses the Streisand effect and how it relates to a kerfuffle involving a Planned Parenthood event in Houston.

Texas Vox explores the connection between lax regulations and ghost towns in Texas.

And the TPA congratulates Amy Valentine for successfully turning her blog on surviving breast cancer into a book about surviving breast cancer.