Righteous Anger Management

I’ve been really busy lately and subsequently have not been blogging. I have been accumulating topics to address and intend to address them once I catch up on a bunch of necessary tasks. The past several weeks have seen the media, when not occupied by tornadoes, prattling on about any numbers of government “scandals.” I don’t really have the time but I’m making some. I must comment on all of these things, most importantly the very recent episode of “Crisis TV,” in which most everyone is shocked and angered at the excesses in surveillance by various government agencies, primarily the NSA, that gouge into our protective armor of constitutional rights, at will, without compunction. A majority of media are fanning the flames of indignation, and to be honest much of it is righteous, but not in the way it is being presented to and then mirrored by the public.

I’d like to address these issues, which are legion, in some sort of organized fashion. This could prove difficult. But let’s give it a go anyway, shall we?

The first issue being screamed about is “Benghazi.” There is a significant effort being made to establish the word “Benghazi” as a brand, encompassing any number of negative aspects of government. It is a buzzword on steroids. Those using this brand as a political mace to batter the administration are using the same tactic as those who are appalled by many of the other transgressions, perceived and/or real, promulgated by the catchall villain, as the disrespectful refer to him (among other names), Obama.

They are intentionally failing to admit that they knew what was happening surrounding the incident, always have known that things work this way, and were perfectly happy to allow it to happen unfettered when done by a government of their own persuasion. They conveniently forget to mention that during the previous administration numerous similar incidents took place, also with loss of life. Knowing full well that this type of disinformation and prevarication is status quo for the US intelligence community and any administration who fronts for them, the anti Obama faction also realized they had an excellent opportunity to make political hay. And the hayloft filled up rapidly.

CIA, State, and the White House were not about to reveal what they actually knew about what happened in Benghazi until the matter was settled to their liking, perhaps not for a great while, maybe never. The chaotic nature of the incident also meant that the investigation could take some time. There was a chance that not much was known by anyone. Instead, I believe that a great deal was known, and the White House didn’t want to let on what it knew, so as not to tip off the bad guys. Regardless, the anti Obama gang knew they could sell any type of conjecture, and repeatedly, because the White House, speaking for State and CIA, would not be able to refute without compromising national security. This marketing they did with great vigor and continue to refer to “Benghazi” at every opportunity, as if it were as well known a brand as Coke or Kleenex.

The second manufactured scandal, which has grown tremendous legs, is the issue of the IRS “targeting” tea party and similar organizations applying for 501 c 4 tax exempt status. Until the recent privacy issues this was number one on the manufactured crisis hit parade. That mean old, sick and disgusting, tyrannical IRS was treating these innocents like sewer rats. All they did was ask for the agency to give their obviously political organizations 501c4 tax exempt status. Apparently the good folks at the IRS singled out conservative organizations with the words “Tea Party” and “Patriots” in their name for extra scrutiny and asked them humiliating and bizarre questions that went beyond the scope of a legitimate investigation, to which no human should ever be subjected. True, and clearly over the top, but not a socialist plot.

First off, to my mind, the truly interesting thing about this entire matter is that it uncovered the fact that the original statute, from the Revenue Act of 1913, stated (and I paraphrase, emphasis mine) that to receive this 501 c 4 status a not for profit organization or civic league must operate exclusively for social welfare or be a local association of employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality. These organizations net earnings are to be devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.

Somehow in 1959 the IRS reinterpreted “exclusively devoted to” to “primarily engaged in” promoting, in some way, the general welfare and common good of the community. They did this without any authority or directive to do so. This represented a dramatic change in the perception of the intent of this statute. In essence what it meant was the IRS had been granting this status to numerous organizations incorrectly for many years, for several reasons, and continues to do so. It means that virtually none of the organizations so vociferously bemoaning the alleged shredding of their inalienable rights, by a vile President bent on disregarding and demeaning the Constitution, and thus destroying “Their” America, are rightfully eligible for the tax exemption. This unilateral twisting of the law is what the IRS is really guilty of and not so much the targeting of these particular groups, however screwed up that was.

To be frank, in this instance the IRS was actually doing it’s job, just in an entirely irresponsible way. Congress, including some who are among the complainers, had asked that the IRS investigate applicants for tax exemption for potential fraud, concerned that government was losing plenty of potential revenue through that illegality. They also cut the budget of the IRS, which always leads to a situation where stress and an increase in workload makes it difficult for any agency to fulfill it’s mandate. This led overzealous IRS employees, assigned to reviewing 501 c 4 applications and overwhelmed by a 200% increase in those applications, to begin flagging groups they felt were likely to be “primarily” political in nature. Granted, these were pretty much all conservative groups. But if I were investigating fraudulent applications for tax exempt status I might be inclined to move groups who have publicly expressed their disdain for paying taxes to the front of the line. Stupid and thoughtless, but not a conspiracy.

In reference to the Obama administration being responsible for this disgrace, the commissioner of the IRS at the time of these transgressions was appointed by the previous President. That these challenges to the applications are a sudden revelation is refuted by the fact that this commissioner, Douglas Shulman, testified in front of a House hearing led by Darryl Issa, and said that the process of investigating to separate legitimate groups from “primarily” political groups was, and always had been, standard procedure and did not represent any sort of “targeting”. Evidently even Rep. Issa was satisfied with this testimony and the matter faded into the woodwork. This was in March of 2012. It would seem that if this were to have been considered a true crisis that it should have become so then, or in late 2011 when it was revealed that this investigation was happening. I find it interesting that it suddenly became a big deal right when certain people saw an opening and wished to press their perceived advantage by introducing another scandal into the public consciousness.

Now we come to the part of the story which actually qualifies as a legitimate national concern, worthy of a serious in depth discussion among all relevant parties, most of whom have arguments of value. However, this issue is also being used as a political bludgeon to beat on our chief executive. In this case the events, many leaked to the public illegally, are very disturbing. Starting with requests that the Associated Press allow gov’t access to it’s phone lines, which threatens journalistic integrity, to the revelation that huge amounts of American citizen’s communications data of all kinds are being kept and stored by the NSA, this is the real issue of import to our nation. Contrary to the loud protests on the right this is not a political issue but a philosophic one in which the nature of what America is and what it represents is conflicted and in peril. And contrary to the calls of betrayal from the left this is not so much a radical departure from his values for the President as an epiphany, which all presidents discover, regarding the realities of our national security interests.

Regardless of the outrage at these violations of privacy and liberty, they are legal. They have been legal since the National Security Surveillance Act of 2006, when the illegal activities of the Bush administration were modified slightly, brought before Congress, and voted into law. This type of surveillance is informed by the secret FISA courts, started during the Carter administration, which are supposed to provide oversight on federal surveillance procedures. Unfortunately the courts and the secret court orders they issue, have not been very effective in keeping the barn door closed. The powers granted by the NSSA have been used generously by both the Bush and Obama administrations, citing as justification that they protect national security, by the provision of valuable evidence surrounding terrorist activities. So we see that even in death Osama Bin Laden has dramatically affected the very core of the American way of life.

It is my opinion that this is a serious issue that reaches deep into the protections of the Constitution and also has dramatic national security implications. As usual, technology outstrips the ability of society to understand and integrate it adequately into responsible application. The conundrums created vex us. They elicit strongly held and virulent opinions, whose powerful emotions make it difficult to have a reasoned conversation. If at all possible we must curtail our fury and remove the politics from the issue, which may be, regrettably, impossible. We must enter into, immediately if not sooner, a sober and respectful conversation about the relative merits of the surrender of civil liberties in the interest of national security. There are compelling arguments for both sides of this problem.

There is also an innate fear and mistrust of “Big Brother” in America, and rightfully so. Yet the threat of terrorism, domestic and international, is real and quite frightening. There needs to be a revised understanding of what exactly protection and safety mean and what level and nature of privacy is to be expected in a free society. As is nearly always the case, the best interests of the individual and those of society must go twelve rounds with each other. There is no guarantee that a clear victor will emerge and both parties will undoubtedly come out bloodied.

What truly upsets and scares me is that the spirited offensive against the president and the forced defensive response, both of which unfortunately appear to be tethered to the 2014 elections and beyond, will make it unlikely that we will be able to have the type of sensible and respectful dialogue this issue so desperately needs. We so need to prevent the unfortunate polarization of this sensitive and important issue from causing more rending of the fabric of American society, which we can little afford in this dangerous time.

Sadly, I fear this is wishful thinking. An inevitable and unstoppable fail.

If only I could be convinced the glass is half full.

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