| May 18, 2013
Will Republicans Oppose James Comey as FBI Director?
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that President Obama has narrowed his list of possible replacements for FBI Director Robert Mueller to two candidates. Senate Republicans probably won't be happy with either of the highly respected choices. Lisa Monaco, the White House's top counterterrorism official, is a Harvard and University of Chicago-educated former prosecutor whose fraud and corruption cases included Enron. The other is James Comey, the former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft. But with his sins of having objected to President Bush's illicit program of NSA domestic surveillance and having selected Patrick Fitzgerald as the Special Counsel in the Plamegate case, Comey would likely hit a brick wall from the GOP.
As the Journal noted, Comey "is best remembered for a high-stakes standoff with his own bosses in the Bush administration." Most Americans are probably unaware of those high-stakes: just months before the 2004 election, Comey and the man he would now replace almost triggered the mass resignation of Justice Department leaders over the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.
In March 2004, Comey served as the acting attorney general during Ashcroft's recovery from emergency gall bladder surgery. In that capacity, Comey had refused to recertify President Bush's illegal NS domestic surveillance program. On March 10, Gonzales and Bush chief-of-staff Andy Card went behind Comey's back to pressure an "extremely ill and disoriented" Ashcroft. The Washington Post recounted Comey's May 2007 Congressional testimony about the scene as Ashcroft's bedside:
When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.
"I was angry,' Mr. Comey told the committee. "I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper."
As Barton Gellman documented, President Bush was blissfully unaware of the rebellion over his so-called "terrorist surveillance program." The crisis over the re-certification over the NSA eavesdropping effort nearly destroyed his Justice Department just months before the November 2004 elections. As Gellman recounted:
All hell was breaking loose at Justice. Lawyers streamed back from the suburbs, converging on the fourth-floor conference room. Most of them were not cleared to hear the details, but a decision began to coalesce: If Comey quit, none of them were staying.
Over the objections of Vice President Cheney, Bush ultimately made the changes Comey and Mueller demanded. Of course, the American people didn't learn about the existence of the NSA domestic spying program until December 2005, more than a year after George W. Bush narrowly secured reelection over Democrat John Kerry. Voters would have known sooner, but as the New York Times' Eric Lichtblau later revealed, "For 13 long months, we'd held off on publicizing one of the Bush administration's biggest secrets."
During those years, the Bush administration had another secret. Someone in the White House had revealed the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. In the fall of 2003, President Bush promised to fire whoever it was. With John Ashcroft having recused himself, it fell to Acting Attorney General James Comey to appoint a Special Counsel. His choice? The U.S. attorney in Chicago and his long-time friend, Patrick Fitzgerald.
While the American Lawyer described Comey and Fitzgerald as "two of a kind," right-wing conspiracy site Newsmax viewed the appointment differently. In October 2005, Newsmax complained in "Patrick Fitzgerald Appointed by Longtime Crony":
Now that the press is convinced that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is about to bring indictments in the Leakgate case, reporters are praising him as an unbiased, objective and independent-minded prosecutor.
But it turns out - independence had nothing to do with the way Fitzgerald won his appointment as Leakgate special counsel.
According to a May 2003 profile in American Lawyer magazine, Fitzgerald had been "best friends" for 14 years with the man who tapped him - then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
In fact, Fitzgerald and Comey were so chummy that the magazine headlined its piece - "The Pat and Jim Show."
When Fitzgerald ultimately indicted and convicted Dick Cheney-s chief-of-staff Scooter Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice, conservatives were apoplectic. Attacking the Republican appointee Fitzgerald for prosecuting a fellow Republican, conservatives predictably denounced the "criminalization of politics." Tucker Carlson, whose father Richard happened to be one of the members of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund at the time, was furious. He called Fitzgerald "a lunatic" and "disgusting." It's no wonder that Karl Rove in March 2005 initially put Patrick Fitzgerald on the list of "weak U.S. Attorneys who...chafed against Administration initiatives" in the political purge of U.S. attorneys.
But as the New York Times explained in May 2007, Republicans' disdain for James Comey hardly ended with Plamegate or the NSA's lawlessness (about which Alberto Gonzales testified in 2006 "there was no serious disagreement" within the administration):
In 2004, he backed Justice Department subordinates who withdrew a legal memorandum justifying harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists. This spring, more than a year after leaving the government, he publicly praised several United States attorneys who had been dismissed, undermining the administration's claim that they were removed for poor performance.
The Times' Scott Shane and David Johnston were surely right when they described Comey as "Loyal to Bush but Big Thorn in Republicans' Side."
For all these reasons, Republicans and their media water carriers would likely open fire on James Comey should President Obama nominate him to run the FBI. But to that list of GOP grievances against the man Obama reportedly considered for the Supreme Court, you can add one more. As Comey explained in his April 2009 defense of the Obama team's national security chops:
"I like and respect Eric Holder a great deal. Just to make sure I never get invited to a Republican Party meeting again I sent a letter of support on his behalf. I happen to think he's a good, honest person."
| May 16, 2013
Republicans May Abort Debt Ceiling Hike, U.S. Economic Recovery
Until Republicans captured their House majority in January 2011, no political party ever had both the intent and the votes to block an increase in the U.S. debt ceiling. While figures in both parties have cast symbolic votes against raising Uncle Sam's borrowing authority (Senator Barack Obama among them), until 2011 neither Democrats nor Republicans ever credibly threatened to trigger a sovereign default by the United States and with it, a global economic meltdown.
But now, the previously unthinkable--what Speaker John Boehner himself once described as "financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy"--is a routine exercise in extortion for the kamikaze conservatives in charge of the House of Representatives. And now, the Washington Post is reporting, the price some Republicans are demanding for Mitch McConnell's "hostage that's worth ransoming" have nothing to do with the national debt at all.
Last week, we learned that Republican leaders may demand revenue-neutral tax reform--that is, rate cuts and loophole closures that would not lower the national debt by one dime--in exchange for a yes vote on the debt limit hike needed last this year. Now, the Post's Lori Montgomery explains, their blackmail may include new abortion restrictions and a green light for the Keystone pipeline:
With the budget deficit falling far faster than anyone expected, House leaders have backed off their insistence that any debt-limit increase be paired with budget cuts of equal value. Now, it seems, the sky's the limit.
At the meeting, 39 lawmakers lined up at microphones to offer suggestions. They ranged from tax and entitlement reform to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a bill that would require congressional approval for any federal regulation that would impose more than $100 million in new costs on business.
At least one person wanted to take on late-term abortion in the wake of the conviction of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Others suggested repeal or delay of Obama's health-care initiative. But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be "realistic," aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic Senate.
You read that right. Just days after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office slashed its 2013 deficit forecast by $200 billion and projected the deficit as a percentage of GDP would fall to 2.1 percent by 2015 (below the Simpson-Bowles target of 2.5 percent), Republicans are adding new items to their ransom note.
In preparation for this fall's brinksmanship, House Republicans passed the so-called "Full Faith and Credit Act" prioritizing Uncle Sam's payments to creditors in case the GOP actually triggers a first-ever default. (Democrats rightly branded the gambit the "Pay China First" bill, as it would put U.S. bondholders ahead of the military, senior citizens and just about everyone and everything else.) While House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) claimed "This legislation is the first step in protecting our credit rating," Speaker Boehner declared:
"Our goal here is to get ourselves on a sustainable path from a fiscal standpoint. I think doing a debt prioritization bill makes it clear to our bondholders that we're going to meet our obligations."
Boehner, of course, has it exactly backwards. The GOP's debt ceiling hostage-taking and its Pay China First scam create the very economic "uncertainty" Boehner and his Republican allies pretend to decry. After all, during the Republicans' first manufactured debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, consumer confidence plummeted and job creation fell off a cliff. As Standard & Poor's described its Tea Party Downgrade of 2011:
A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default -- a position put forth by some Republicans. Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
That's right. That kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns. But for Congressional Republicans willing to destroy the American economy if their escalating demands are not met, it's just another day at the office.
| May 15, 2013
GOP Yawns at AP Story Because "You Don't Have Any Civil Liberties If You're Dead"
Revelations that the Justice Department authorized the seizure of Associated Press phone records have produced condemnation from Congressional Democrats and other Obama allies. But while Capitol Hill Democrats decried the tactics as "inexcusable" (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), "troubling" (Senator Pat Leahy) and having "impaired the First Amendment" (Rep. Zoe Lofgren), Congressional Republicans have been largely silent. Silent, that is, with good reason. After all, their relative quiet isn't just due to the fact that they demanded the investigation into the 2012 Yemen leak and throughout the Bush presidency supported the prosecution of leakers, whistleblowers and reporters alike. As it turns out, when it came to justifying the unprecedented domestic surveillance of American citizens by the Bush administration, Republicans leaders claimed "you really don't have any civil liberties if you're dead."
Unlike their foaming at the mouth reactions to the Benghazi and IRS imbroglios, the GOP's best and brightest have in comparison exhibited an almost Zen-like patience over the AP affair. Former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged giving the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt. While John McCain explained, "For me, to rush to a judgment without knowing all the facts is just not appropriate," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) defended the Justice Department by proclaiming, "they are doing what we asked them to do, investigate the leak." Meanwhile, the number two Republican in the Senate John Cornyn (R-TX) urged all to withhold judgment:
"Well, I think we need to see how this plays out. I have questions about it, but I'm willing to wait and see how this plays out, whether it was narrowly targeted or whether it was a net that was too broadly cast."
Of course, when Americans learned on December 16, 2005 that President Bush had ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to undertake warrantless electronic surveillance of their communications, Senator Cornyn insisted that no net could possibly be too broadly cast. Echoing the talking point vomited forth by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts ("You really don't have any civil liberties if you're dead") and Alabama's Jeff Sessions ("Over 3,000 Americans have no civil rights because they are no longer with us"), John Cornyn declared:
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."
As Timothy Lee explained in the Washington Post on Tuesday, the real scandal in the AP case may be that the actions of the Justice Department are legal. Despite the protests of Bush torture architect John Yoo, the same could not be said of the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. After all, it wasn't just constitutional scholars arguing that the Commanded-in-Chief's Article II war powers or the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force did not allow the President to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). As it turned out, in March 2004 Acting Attorney General James Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller threatened to resign if President Bush reauthorized a program they considered illegal without changes they demanded.
President Bush was blissfully unaware of the looming resignations which almost resulted from that now infamous episode which occurred in the hospital room of a gravely ill John Ashcroft. Of course, the American people didn't learn about the existence of the NSA domestic spying program until December 2005, more than a year after George W. Bush narrowly secured reelection over Democrat John Kerry. Voters would have known sooner, but as the Times' Eric Lichtblau later revealed, "For 13 long months, we'd held off on publicizing one of the Bush administration's biggest secrets."
Nevertheless, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress and the conservative media showed great enthusiasm for prosecuting Lichtblau and his co-author James Risen, as well as NSA whistle-blower Thomas Tamm. (Risen would later be subpoenaed over his reporting on the Iranian nuclear program.) After the revelations about the NSA program by the New York Times on December 16, 2005, President Bush three days later raged about what he deemed "a shameful act" that is "helping the enemy". Claiming he didn't order an investigation, Bush added "the Justice Department, I presume, will proceed forward with a full investigation" At a subsequent press conference that same day, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested the retribution that was to come:
"As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, as the President indicated, this is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we'll just have to wait and see."
Leading the charge in the right-wing echo chamber has been Gabriel Schoenfeld, then editor of Commentary and later an adviser to Mitt Romney. On June 6, 2006, Schoenfeld appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to claim that the New York Times violated federal criminal statutes, if not the Espionage Act of 1917 by publishing its delayed story about NSA domestic surveillance. One month later on July 3, he laid out his case in the Weekly Standard, approvingly citing Gonzales' veiled threats towards the New York Times:
"There are some statutes on the books, which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility."
After news of the FBI's raid on Tamm's home in the summer of 2007, Schoenfeld again called for the scalps of Risen and Lichtblau:
"With the investigation making progress, the possibility remains that even if the New York Times is not indicted, its reporters - James Risen and Eric Lichtblau - might be called before the grand jury and asked to confirm under oath that Tamm, or some other suspect, was their source. That is what happened to a whole battalion of journalists in the investigation of Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame fiasco.
If Risen and Lichtblau promised their source confidentiality, they might choose not to testify. That would potentially place them, like Judith Miller in the Libby investigation, in contempt of court and even land them in prison."
That didn't happen. As for Tamm, the DOJ dropped its investigation in 2011. But while President Bush may be gone, President Obama to the great consternation of many supporters and civil libertarians alike has pursued an even more adversarial posture towards press reporting of national security stories. As the New York Times editorial board lamented this week:
The Obama administration has indicted six current and former officials under the Espionage Act, which had previously been used only three times since it was enacted in 1917. One, a former C.I.A. officer, pleaded guilty under another law for revealing the name of an agent who participated in the torture of a terrorist suspect. Meanwhile, President Obama decided not to investigate, much less prosecute, anyone who actually did the torturing.
And that should make John Cornyn and his Republican friends in Congress very happy, indeed. After all, Cornyn threatened to block Attorney General Eric Holder's nomination over the torture issue. Besides, when it comes to reporters in particular and American citizens in general, Cornyn insists, "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."
| May 14, 2013
CBO Slashes 2013 Deficit Forecast to $642 Billion
On January 7, 200--two weeks before Barack Obama took the oath of office--the Congressional Budget Office forecast the federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 at $1.2 trillion. Now, the CBO is projecting the deficit will be only $642 billion for FY 2013, $200 billion less than the nonpartisan budget scorekeeper estimated as recently as February.
For policymakers in Washington, the implications couldn't be clearer. For starters, the counterproductive Beltway fixation on immediate debt reduction, which economists have warned is slowing U.S. economic growth and costing millions of jobs, should be jettisoned ASAP. And to be sure, the Republicans' next round of debt ceiling hostage-taking should be condemned as the economic sabotage it is.
The CBO explained why the U.S. fiscal picture is improving so dramatically:
If the current laws that govern federal taxes and spending do not change, the budget deficit will shrink this year to $642 billion, CBO estimates, the smallest shortfall since 2008. Relative to the size of the economy, the deficit this year--at 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)--will be less than half as large as the shortfall in 2009, which was 10.1 percent of GDP...
CBO's estimate of the deficit for this year is about $200 billion below the estimate that it produced in February 2013, mostly as a result of higher-than-expected revenues and an increase in payments to the Treasury by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For the 2014-2023 period, CBO now projects a cumulative deficit that is $618 billion less than it projected in February. That reduction results mostly from lower projections of spending for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the public debt.
By 2015, the annual deficit is now projected to just 2.1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, well below the 40-year historical average of 3.1 percent. The gap is expected to grow to 3.5 percent by 2023, "because of the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, and growing interest payments on federal debt."
The new CBO numbers are just the latest confirmation of House Speaker John Boehner's admission that "we have no immediate debt crisis." Coming on the heels of an analysis by the Hamilton Project estimating that austerity at the federal, state and local level has cost up to 2.2 million American jobs, the CBO report should help put to lie that more budget cutting is needed in Washington. As the New York Times explained just last week:
The nation's unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011, according to private-sector and government economists.
| May 13, 2013
Here's How the IRS Scandal Could Cost Uncle Sam Billions
Revelations that IRS civil servants used biased criteria to target conservative groups seeking tax exempt status is rightly drawing bipartisan outrage. President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) voiced their strong support for probes of what Obama deemed the "outrageous" conduct of agency employees. Democrats are absolutely right to join their Republican colleagues like Susan Collins (R-ME) in warning that even the perception of partisan bias at the IRS "contributes to the profound distrust that the American people have in government."
But even if scandal in question is ultimately limited to a few "bad apples" in the agency's Cincinnati field office, the impact both on the Internal Revenue Service and federal tax revenues could be severe. After all, the $600 million sequester is already causing furloughs at IRS, cutbacks which on top of previous budget reductions are already costing Uncle Sam billions of dollars in lost revenue a year. And with underreporting of income, tax evasion and outright cheating now short-changing the U.S. Treasury by up to $500 billion a year, another GOP crusade like the successful 1990's Republican war on the IRS would only make the U.S. national debt much, much worse.
In January 2012, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson warned Congress that "the combination of the IRS's expanding workload and declining resources" was resulting in "inadequate taxpayer service, erosion of taxpayer rights, and reduced tax compliance." As tax expert David Cay Johnston documented in "Honey, I Shrank the IRS" and "The Tax Police Budget Shrinks," the budget sequestration process which began in March is under-cutting the over-burdened agency's ability to collect what Americans--and especially businesses--owe their government. As Johnston explained last month:
This fiscal year, the IRS will spend 20 percent less per capita in real terms than it did in 2002, my analysis of the official data shows. Back then the Service cost $41.98 per American, but now it is down to $33.55.
Those figures are based on the Obama administration's published sequester amount estimates. This week the IRS said the reduction is $594.5 million instead of the White House figure of $973 million or the nearly identical figure implied by the across-the-board cut of 8.2 percent. If the smaller number, which the IRS did not explain despite my request, is correct then the real reduction since fiscal 2002 would be down $7.24 per capita, or 17 percent, rather than 20 percent. Either way this is bad.
Because "revenue" is the IRS's middle name, a smaller budget means less capacity to do the job, which in turn means less tax being collected than is due.
If this movie seems familiar, it's because you saw it two years ago.
The Obama Administration wanted to increase the IRS budget from $12.1 billion to $13.3 billion in fiscal 2012 and add 5,000 IRS agents. But the House GOP said no. In April 2011, Congressional Republicans extracted $600 million in cuts from the IRS in return for a spending deal with President Obama, reductions which at the time were forecast to cost the Treasury $4 billion in lost revenue. Now, the annual report to Congress from the National Taxpayer Advocate shows, "IRS is not adequately funded to serve taxpayers or collect revenue." As the AP explained:
The Internal Revenue Service can't keep up with surging tax cheating and isn't sufficiently collecting revenue or helping confused taxpayers because Congress isn't giving it enough money to do its job, a government watchdog said Wednesday...
Congress cut the IRS budget to $11.8 billion this year. That is $300 million less than last year and $1.5 billion below the request by President Barack Obama, who argued that boosting the agency's spending would fatten tax collections and provide better service to taxpayers.
President Obama, of course, was right. As a stunned Ezra Klein of the Washington Post summed up the GOP's penny-wise, pound-foolish spending cuts" that March:
"Converting dollar bills into $10 bills is an excellent way to pay off your credit card. Except, it seems, if you're a House Republican...
As the Associated Press reported, "every dollar the Internal Revenue Service spends for audits, liens and seizing property from tax cheats brings in more than $10, a rate of return so good the Obama administration wants to boost the agency's budget." It's an easy way to reduce the deficit: You don't have to cut heating oil for the poor or Pell grants for students. You just have to make people pay what they owe."
Nevertheless, just nine months after Jonathan Cohn highlighted the Republicans' "pro-tax evasion, pro-deficits" position, National Taxpayer Advocate Olson confirmed the trend underway for years continues to worsen. "Inadequate funding," the agency web site reported, "means the IRS cannot adequately pursue unpaid tax liabilities":
The report points out that the IRS functions as the "accounts receivable" department of the federal government, as it collects more than 90 percent of all federal revenue and therefore provides the funds that make almost all other federal spending possible. On a budget of $12.1 billion, the IRS collected $2.42 trillion in FY 2011. In other words, for every $1 that Congress appropriated for the IRS, the IRS collected about $200 in return. However, current federal budgeting rules do not take into account that a dollar appropriated for the IRS typically generates substantially more than a dollar in additional tax collections, leaving the agency substantially underfunded to do its job and limiting its ability to close the tax gap and thereby help reduce the federal budget deficit.
The report points out that the size of the tax gap raises important equity concerns, because compliant taxpayers end up carrying a disproportionate share of the tax burden. For 2001, the most recent year for which a complete tax gap estimate existed when the report was written, the IRS estimated it was unable to collect $290 billion in taxes. Since there were then 108 million households in the United States, the average household paid a "noncompliance surtax" of almost $2,700 to enable the federal government to raise the same revenue it would have collected if all taxpayers had reported their income and paid their taxes in full. "That is not a burden we should expect our nation's taxpayers to bear lightly," the report says. [Last week, the IRS released updated tax gap estimates. For 2006, the IRS estimated it was unable to collect $385 billion in taxes when there were 114 million households, producing an updated "noncompliance surtax" of nearly $3,400 per household.]
But with the taxpayer population now at 141.2 million, economist Benjamin Harris of the Brookings Institution estimated the gross tax gap could range from $410 billion to $500 billion. The implications for America's $3.7 trillion annual budget and $845 billion deficit are clear. "You could go a long way toward solving our budget mess by closing the tax gap," Harris said, "But the problem is, it's not easily closed."
Especially if, as Republicans insisted during the late 1990's, the government doesn't even try.
As the Los Angeles Times reported in 1998, "Americans are failing to pay $195 billion annually in taxes owed to the federal government, the highest estimate ever of the so-called tax gap." But that before the full force of the anti-IRS jihad led by Phil Gramm and his Republican allies was brought to bear.
As Johnston explained in his 2003 classic Perfectly Legal, the GOP during the Clinton administration waged an all-out war on the IRS, turning the priorities for auditing Americans upside-down. Then as now, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz framed the issue for his Republican allies, "Which would you prefer: having your wallet or purse stolen or being audited by the IRS?" As Senator William Roth's Finance Committee held hearings in 1997 and 1998, Mississippi's Trent Lott and Alaska's Frank Murkowski decried the IRS' "Gestapo-like tactics." Don Nickles of Oklahoma raged, "The IRS is out of control!" Congress went on to pass and Bill Clinton signed the IRS Reform and Restructuring Act in 1998.
Even as then-IRS Director Charles Rossotti warned Congress about an epidemic of tax cheating, Senator Gramm in May 1998 denounced the agency. Peddling myths of jack-booted IRS agents tormenting American taxpayers, Gramm called on Rossotti to fire his 50 worst employees. Gramm concluded:
"I have no confidence in the Internal Revenue Service of this country. You do not have a good system. This agency has too much unchecked power."
As the New York Times recounted that spring, the plan to gut the IRS advocated by Phil Gramm and his allies was a popular political gambit, but almost certain to create incentives for tax evasion:
Mr. Gramm spoke at length of how he had ''no confidence'' in the I.R.S., remarks that were in sharp contrast to those of every other senator, who emphasized that the majority of I.R.S. workers were honest and most taxpayers law-abiding.
A variety of tax experts have said in recent weeks that attacks on the I.R.S., which polls show are a potent device to win votes and contributions for Republicans, give comfort to tax cheats and discourage honest taxpayers.
Which, of course, is exactly what happened.
Those reforms in essence gave wealthier Americans carte blanche to cheat and fundamentally undermined tax fairness in the United States. Within one year, property seizures for unpaid taxes dropped by 98%. Liens were sliced by three quarters and levies on bank accounts by two-thirds. Johnston describes (p. 134) the overnight shift of tax policing onto poorer Americans:
In 1999, for the first time, the poor were more likely than the rich to have their tax returns audited. The overall rate for people making less than $25,000 a year was 1.36%, compared with 1.15% of returns by those making $100,000 or more...Over the previous 11 years audit rates for the poor had increased by a third, while falling 90 percent for the top tier of Americans.
Making matters worse, a Bush administration unable to permanently repeal the estate tax instead sought to cripple enforcement by laying off IRS lawyers responsible for estate tax reviews. By 2006, the IRS reported that 85 percent of large taxable gifts it audited shortchanged the government. As the Times detailed at the time:
Over the last five years, officials at both the I.R.S. and the Treasury have told Congress that cheating among the highest-income Americans is a major and growing problem.
Five years ago, Congressional Democrats sought to plug at least some of the leak. As then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel put it, "The tax gap is the logical place to go." As the New York Times reported at the time:
House and Senate Democrats say the government could collect as much as $100 billion more a year by whittling the tax gap -- the unpaid taxes, mostly on unreported earnings, that the I.R.S. estimated was about $300 billion a year...
Mark W. Everson, the I.R.S. commissioner, has expressed far greater optimism. At a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee a year ago, he told lawmakers that the government could recover "between $50 billion and $100 billion without changing the dynamic between the I.R.S. and the people."
The Bush administration and its GOP allies blocked that effort, despite Emanuel's pleas that "When you have a number as high as $300 billion in unreported and uncollected income taxes, that puts a burden on everybody." Especially, it turns out, because Republicans believe that some people are more equal than others.
Mercifully, President Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats have taken steps to recapture some of the lost revenue and restore at least some fairness to the tax system. Better late than never, the IRS has finally reversed its decade-long bias for the wealthy. The agency is once again offering the carrot and stick of an amnesty program and prosecution for Americans hiding unreported offshore bank accounts. As the AP reported in December 2009, the IRS is now less likely to audit those earning below $200,000 a year. The result, Politico explained just last week, is a reversal of the approach under Republicans even as the total number of audits (1.5 million, or 1.1 percent) is largely unchanged:
In the 2011 fiscal year, 12.5 percent of those with income of $1 million and higher were audited by the IRS, up from 8.4 percent in 2010, according to the agency's enforcement and service results. From 2004 through 2009, the percentage of audits for this income group had hovered between 5 percent and 6.5 percent.
Meanwhile, just 1 percent of those with incomes of $200,000 or less were audited by the IRS last year, indicating no significant change from previous years.
"We base our audit decisions on tax issues, nothing else," IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge told the AP. "We don't play politics here."
If the IRS's own inspector general and Congressional investigators find they did, there should be hell to pay. But with Republicans like Newt Gingrich already denouncing the agency and its role in enforcing the Obamacare individual mandate, the GOP will play politics with the IRS budget regardless. And the certain result will be tens of billions in less revenue annually for Uncle Sam--and more debt for the United States.
Benghazi and the Republican Scandal Management Playbook
For Republicans, Benghazi is the scandal that must not die. Despite the testimony by Obama administration officials including Hillary Clinton and the blistering findings of the State Department Accountability Review Board she endorsed, the GOP is determined to bludgeon the current president and the woman who might be his successor. So, the Republicans' talking point regurgitators insist, President Obama should be impeached (Mike Huckabee) for a "massive cover-up" worse than Watergate (John McCain), while Hillary Clinton should be disqualified for her "dereliction of duty" (Rand Paul) or even prosecuted for "lying to Congress" (Darrell Issa). And with November 2016 and not September 11, 2012 in mind, Republicans led by Lindsey Graham and Dick Cheney are calling for Clinton to be subpoenaed by House Republicans.
For its part, the Obama administration has generally been forthcoming and cooperative, if sometimes clumsy, in working with both Congress and the independent Review Board regarding the Benghazi tragedy that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Of course, it didn't have to be this way. The Obama White House could have simply copied some pages from the Republican Scandal Management Playbook.
Oppose the Investigation. As the chorus grew in early 2002 to create a commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their allies said no. While Cheney warned "the people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion," House Majority Leader Tom Delay declared:
"A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill conceived and, frankly, irresponsible. We need to address America's challenges in intelligence gathering and terrorist prevention. But we don't need to hand the terrorists an after-action report."
Delay's Senate counterpart Trent Lott went a step further:
"I really think there's nothing more despicable ... for someone to insinuate that the president of the United States knew there was an attack on our country that was imminent and didn't do anything about it. For us to be talking like our enemy, George W. Bush instead of Osama bin Laden, that's not right."
Lott's GOP colleague from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison concurred, protesting "I don't think that anyone should start pointing fingers in a personal way or suggest that people are trying to cover their political backsides."
Agree to Testify, But Not Under Oath. Ultimately, President Bush yielded to mounting public pressure and agreed to support the 9/11 Commission under the aegis of Henry Kissinger. (Unwilling to reveal his financial interests, Kissinger withdrew.) But as for his own participation, Bush agreed to testify, but on the conditions that he be questioned behind closed doors jointly with Vice President Cheney and neither man would be under oath. As President Bush explained his White House meeting with the 9/11 commissioners on April 29, 2004:
"If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. I came away good about the session, because I wanted them to know, you know, how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.
The vice president answered a lot of their questions, answered all their questions. And I think it was important for them to see our body language as well, how we work together."
Of course, when it came to Congressional investigations of the Bush administration's politically motivated purge of U.S. attorneys, Vice President Cheney insisted White House personnel should be neither seen nor heard. Calling the outcry over the prosecutors' firings "a bit of a witch hunt," Cheney and his boss made sure their team did not honor any Congressional subpoenas:
The Bush White House directed chief of staff Joshua Bolten, political director Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor all to ignore subpoenas from Congress. In 2008, a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to do so.
And at the end of President George W. Bush's tenure, the White House instructed top officials not to cooperate with any future congressional inquiries into alleged administration misdeeds.
Claim Executive Privilege. In the GOP book of Scandal Defenses for Dummies, the first entry on page one is to claim executive privilege.
That is precisely what the Bush White House did when it came to Dick Cheney's secret energy task force. In 2001 Cheney and his clandestine energy task force held dozens of meetings with 300 groups and individuals in formulating Bush administration policy. Among them was Enron CEO and Bush "Pioneer" Ken Lay. And as Paul Krugman noted in speculating about the group's role in altering "new source review" and other policies, "the day after the executive director of Mr. Cheney's task force left the government, he went into business as an energy industry lobbyist." Nevertheless, the Bush administration fought requests by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch for information about the participants under the Federal Advisory Committee Act all the way to the Supreme Court. (In September 2004, Darrell Issa was among the 30 GOP member of the House Energy Committee who blocked a Democratic resolution which sought "the names of individuals who worked behind closed doors with Vice President Cheney's energy task force to craft the Bush administration's national energy policy."
For his part, Dick Cheney claimed in 2007 that the Bush White House was "very responsible" in supplying information to lawmakers, but that "sometimes requests have been made that clearly fall outside the boundaries." And as he made clear again in his memoirs, his secret energy task force was one of those cases:
"We had the right to consult with whomever we chose -- and no obligation to tell the press or Congress or anybody else whom we were talking to. .... I believed something larger was at stake: the power of the presidency and the ability of the president and vice president to carry out their constitutional duties." When they won the fight, he says, "It was a major victory both for us and for the power of the executive branch."
Unless, Cheney's allies now insist, that executive branch is headed by a Democrat.
Delay the Findings for Years. After learning that there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2003 launched an investigation. But thanks to the maneuvering of GOP Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), the committee divided its work into two phases. But Phase 2, the probe dealing with the Bush administration's uses and misuses of pre-war intelligence, would not be completed until after the November 2004 election. (The Silbermann-Robb commission similarly punted on that vital question, noting that "Well, on the [that] point, we duck. That is not part of our charter.")
When the Phase 1 report was published in July 2004, Roberts crowed, "the committee found no evidence that the intelligence community's mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure." But as Vice Chairmen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) protested:
"There is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don't think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts' statement, and that is about the -- after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers? So again there's genuine frustration -- and Chairman Roberts and I have discussed this many times -- that virtually everything that has to do with the administration has been relegated to phase two. My hope is that we will get this done as soon as possible."
But in March 2005, Roberts announced that Phase 2 "is basically on the back burner." As he explained:
"I don't think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further...To go through that exercise, it seems to me, in a post-election environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it."
Give Rice Better Sound Bites. Last fall, Republican Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham announced they would try to block a potential appointment of UN Ambassador Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton. Calling Rice "not very bright," McCain blasted her September 16 statements about the Benghazi killings to ABC's This Week.
Of course, when the Rice in question was named Condoleezza and worked for a Republican president, John McCain took a different tack. After all, Condi Rice famously warned of Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." In 2004, she sheepishly described the critical August 6, 2001 presidential daily brief admitted to the 9/11 Commission, "I believe the title was 'Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.'"
Nevertheless, when Bush's National Security Adviser was nominated for Secretary of State in 2005, John McCain declared "Condoleezza Rice is a great American success story" and "a person of integrity." Slamming those who "challenged her integrity," McCain groused:
"I see this [as] some lingering bitterness over a very tough campaign. I hope it dissipates soon."
Accuse the Opposition of "Criminalizing Politics." Dating back to at least the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Republicans and their media water-carriers have turned to the "criminalizing politics" evasion when confronted with the lawlessness and wrong-doing of their leaders. After first deploying the criminalization of politics defense during Iran-Contra, conservative relied on their trusted talking point for the U.S. attorneys purge, the Scooter Libby case, the indictment of Tom Delay and the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture.
In the spring of 2009, Wall Street Journal, Powerline and the usual suspects in the right-wing noise machine were at it again. Investigating potential war crimes by the Bush White House, they argued, constituted "criminalizing conservatism" itself:
Mark down the date. Tuesday, April 21, 2009, is the moment that any chance of a new era of bipartisan respect in Washington ended. By inviting the prosecution of Bush officials for their antiterror legal advice, President Obama has injected a poison into our politics that he and the country will live to regret...
Above all, the exercise will only embitter Republicans, including the moderates and national-security hawks Mr. Obama may need in the next four years. As patriotic officials who acted in good faith are indicted, smeared, impeached from judgeships or stripped of their academic tenure, the partisan anger and backlash will grow...
Mr. Obama is more popular than his policies, due in part to his personal charm and his seeming goodwill. By indulging his party's desire to criminalize policy advice, he has unleashed furies that will haunt his Presidency.
(Of course, none of that right-wing hysteria came to pass in large part because the Obama administration adopted the very "criminalization of politics" canard supplied by the Republicans. As Attorney General Eric Holder promised during his confirmation hearings in January 2009, "We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist" with the outgoing Bush White House.")
Attack the Victim... To be sure, Republicans were quick to deploy the "criminalizing politics" defense during the Plamegate affair and the subsequent indictment and conviction of Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby. But their counterattack didn't end there.
During March 2007 hearings on the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, current Benghazi Grand Inquisitor rushed to the Bush administration's defense. Plame, Issa suggested, was guilty of perjury:
"I believe that his wife will soon be asking for a pardon. She has not been genuine in her testimony before Congress, if pursued, Ambassador Wilson and Valerie will be asking to put this behind us. I do not believe this was good use of the Committee's time. I hope we will have a real debate about proper use of clemency."
Issa had plenty of company. That same day, his Committee heard from a witness who rejected the CIA's own description of Valerie Plame as a clandestine officer at the agency. The GOP's attack dog that day? Victoria Toensing, the same Victoria Toensing now representing the so-called Benghazi whistle-blowers.
...And the Victims' Families. During the last weeks of the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney was criticized for trying to appropriate the Benghazi victims for his campaign. (Among those pushing back was the father of Ambassador Stevens and the mother of the former Navy SEAL killed there.)
But back in 2007, current House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa had a novel approach. During committee hearings into the slaughter of private security contractors in Fallujah, Issa defended Blackwater by mocking the victims' families to their faces:
"Although I don't think your testimony today is particularly germane to the oversight of this committee, I am deeply sorry for the losses that you've had...One question I have is, the opening statement, who wrote it?"
Declare That "Nobody Could Have Predicted" the Disaster. When in doubt, Republicans will never hesitate to blame their catastrophic failings on an act of God. The scandals, tragedies and wrong-doing which unfolded on their watch were all simply unknowable.
The uses of the "nobody could have expected" defense were legion during the Bush administration. After Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, President Bush wrongly explained, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." After 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice protested, "I don't think anybody could have predicted" that terrorists "would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." (After Hamas won the Palestinian elections her State Department pushed, Rice lamented that "I've asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse.") While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in April 2003 brushed off the growing chaos in Baghdad by announcing, "Stuff happens," President Bush in August 2004 had another explanation for the bloodbath and mounting American casualties his invasion of Iraq produced:
"Had we had to do it [the invasion of Iraq] over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success - being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."
Even in its last throes, the Bush White House insisted the disasters which unfolded on its watch were unforeseeable. Just days before leaving office, Vice President Dick Cheney tried to deflect blame for the calamity on Wall Street and the deepening recession by declaring, "Nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure that out" and "I don't know that anybody did." Then, Cheney magically converted failure into a virtue and ignorance into a shield in explaining away the Bush presidency:
"No, obviously, I wouldn't have predicted that. On the other hand I wouldn't have predicted 9/11, the global war on terror, the need to simultaneous run military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq or the near collapse of the financial system on a global basis, not just the U.S."
Of course, it's easy to be in the dark when you think with your heart and not your head. Take, for example, Ronald Reagan, who in his March 4, 1987 address to the nation owned up to the Iran-Contra scandal he unsuccessfully tried to deny:
"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."
But as the Obama administration should know by now, that was nothing compared to the Benghazi horror. As Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King laid out the math in December, "I believe that it's a lot bigger than Watergate, and if you link Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you're going to get in the zone where Benghazi is."
Issa Smears His Former Blackwater Shield, David Petraeus
As his performance over the past week suggests, Rep. Darrell Issa's response to the tragic deaths of American citizens in the Middle East apparently depends on which party controls the White House. After all, in February 2007 Issa mocked the families of four Blackwater contractors slaughtered in Fallujah. Now, the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has accused former CIA Director David Petraeus of carrying water for the Obama administration's supposed Benghazi cover-up. That would be the same General David Petraeus Issa charged six years ago was being targeted by Democrats "as part of an ongoing partisan smear campaign against U.S. efforts in Iraq."
Appearing on Meet the Press with host David Gregory on Sunday, John Boehner's Benghazi Grand Inquisitor suggested that Petraeus and the members of the independent Accountability Review Board did President Obama's bidding on the Benghazi probe:
GREGORY: Chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this talking to administration officials is that CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there-- that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were-- there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here.
REP. ISSA: David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication. Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear. The only under oath people I know about who have said what happened on the ground that day was, in fact, before our committee just on Wednesday.
But when Gregory asked him if he was accusing the Obama administration of having "bullied the CIA into saying what the political advisors in the White House wanted him to say," Chairman Issa responded simply, "David, we're not making charges."
Of course, Darrell Issa is making a very serious charge against David Petraeus. As it turns out, it's almost the complete opposite of the slander Issa put forth during Congressional hearings about Blackwater and other private security firms hired by the United States. On October 2, 2007, Issa blasted then Chairman Henry Waxman and committee Democrats for their inquiry which occurred just days after an incident in which 11 Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater employees:
I think it's been made incredibly clear by the previous statements on the Democrats side that this is not about Blackwater. [...]What we're hearing today is in fact a repeat of the MoveOn.org attack on General Petraeus' patriotism.
What we're seeing is that, except for the 79 members who voted against denouncing MoveOn.org, eight of whom are on the dais here today, what we're seeing is what they couldn't do to our men and women in uniform, they'll simply switch targets.
The bodies were not cold in Iraq before this became a story worth going after here in committee.
I'm not here to defend Blackwater.
But I am here to defend General Petraeus and the men and women in uniform who do their job, who were first denounced by MoveOn.org, then not denounced by members of Congress, many of whom are on the dais today, speaking as though they don't support attacking every possible way the administration's war in Iraq.
But that was then and this is now. And now, Democrat Barack Obama, not Republican George W. Bush, sits in the Oval Office. All of which means Darrell Issa is no longer here to defend General Petraeus, but to slander him.
(For more on Chairman Issa's checkered past, see "The Top 15 Moments from the Darrell Issa Hall of Shame.")
| May 12, 2013
Reagan's Lost Jets Show Danger of Syria Intervention
Over the past few days, news reports suggest that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad may be gaining the upper hand in the Syrian civil war. While Hezbollah fighters are apparently pouring in from Lebanon to counter Al Qaeda extremists aligned with the rebels, a hard core Shiite militia backing Assad is having greater success than the regular Syrian army in regaining lost ground.
Nevertheless, key Republican leaders and their amen corner are calling for U.S. intervention to stop the slaughter and help topple the Assad regime. Buoyed by two recent Israeli air strikes within Syria, John McCain and the likes of Charles Krauthammer are calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone despite the strong warnings from Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey that "it would be a greater challenge, and would take longer and require more resources" than in Libya.
But the usual suspects so gung ho for Barack Obama to launch strikes against Syrian positions might recall what happened the last time a U.S. President casually did so. After all, back in 1983 Ronald Reagan learned the hard way what can happen when the U.S. imposes itself on a sectarian conflict in the region.
During its June 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel launched a devastating series of attacks on Syrian surface-to-air missile (SAM) positions in the Bekaa Valley. When the Syrian Air Force dispatched jets to protect the SAM sites, Israel downed 87 MIGs with no losses of its own.
But a year and a half later, American forces weren't so fortunate. On December 4th, 1983, President Ronald Reagan ordered carrier-based bombers to attack anti-aircraft sites that had fired on reconnaissance planes protecting the U.S. peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The result, as the New York Times recalled in 1989, was a disaster:
The only time the United States sent its bombers over Lebanon, as President Bush was reportedly prepared to do again this week, the mission ended in a fiasco, with two planes shot down and one damaged, one pilot killed and one crewman captured, and little to show for the effort.
The memory of that December 1983 raid, which came only six weeks after 241 American servicemen were killed in the bombing of their barracks in Beirut, remains vivid among senior officers in the Pentagon as they await the outcome of diplomatic efforts to end the current hostage crisis.
In The Reagan Diaries, the Gipper explained how he came to order the ill-fated:
That evening received a call from McFarlane that the Syrians had launched an anti-aircraft & ground to air missile against our unarmed reconnaissance planes during one of their routine sweeps of Beirut. Permission was needed from me for a return strike against the guilty batteries. I'd already received a call on this from Cap in Paris. I gave the order. Sunday morning got a call--we had taken out a communications center, some batteries & an ammo dump. Two of our planes (24) had been shot down. One pilot parachuted and had been recovered. The other 2 is the 2nd plane parachuted in hostile zone--we've heard one was machine-gunned but we've also hard both are prisoners. We're trying to get a confirmation & will open negotiations for their return.
That same night, Reagan wrote that he attended a Hanukah ceremony and went to reception honoring Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Elia Kazan, Katherine Dunham and Virgil Thompson at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts. "A posse of our Hollywood friends will be at the W.H. for the reception," President Reagan noted, adding later, "It turned out to be a wonderful evening & a great show.
Just not for the armed forces of the United States. (The next day, President Reagan complained, "Our press & TV are hostile to the point of being pro-Syrian.")
Ironically, one voice speaking out the entire debacle that lasted from August 24, 1982 until March 30, 1984 was freshman Arizona Congressman John McCain. In the fall of 1983 he voted against the War Powers resolution authorizing U.S forces to remain in Beirut for another 18 months. As CNN recalled following a 2008 presidential debate:
McCain said "I do not see any obtainable objectives in Lebanon" and that "the longer we stay there, the harder it will be to leave." On Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide attack at the Marine headquarters in Beirut killed 241 U.S. service members.
"In Lebanon, I stood up to President Reagan, my hero, and said, if we send Marines in there, how can we possibly beneficially affect this situation? And said we shouldn't. Unfortunately, almost 300 brave young Marines were killed." McCain said at the debate.
(The impact of that defeat at the hands of Iranian and Syrian proxies in Lebanon doubtless had a major impact. It helps why when Americans were taken hostage in 1986, Reagan instead sent a cake, a Bible and U.S. weapons to Tehran.)
To be sure, the geopolitics and military realties on the ground now in Syria have changed dramatically since the Lebanon catastrophe 30 years ago. With its modern arsenal and proven ability to knock out sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses, Chairman Dempsey explained two weeks ago that "the U.S. military has the capability to defeat that system, but it would be a greater challenge, take longer and require more resources." But like former Bush and Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who on Sunday declared it would be a "mistake" to think America should - or even could - play a more muscular role in shaping the outcome in Syria), General Dempsey expressed caution:
"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome I think that not only members of Congress but all of us would desire -- which is an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties and a stable Syria -- that's the reason I've been cautious about the application of the military instrument of power. It's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome."
Now as always, the neoconservative crowd is undeterred. Charles Krauthammer brushed off worries about U.S. casualties, proclaiming instead that "Israel's successful strikes around Damascus show that a Western no-fly zone would not require a massive Libyan-style campaign to take out all Syrian air defenses." As for John McCain, he didn't merely contradict the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on Syria; he mocked him outright:
McCain, appearing on ABC's "This Week," accused the Joint Chiefs of Staff of looking for ways to avoid imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. He said Israel proved last week that airstrikes inside Syria can work against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
"I'm sure they took out assets of Assad's in Syria, which is exactly what we could do with cruise missiles and with Patriot missiles," McCain said. "So that obviously blows a hole a mile wide in our Joint Chiefs of Staff, who prove again if you don't want to do something, they can find reasons not to do it."
Iraq and Libya, where renewed civil war is on the verge of exploding in each, are two pretty good reasons for caution. But if you still need a third, look to Ronald Reagan's Lebanon fiasco and his lost jets of 1983.
Cardinal O'Malley Boycotts Irish Prime Minister at Boston College
Four years ago, some conservatives created an uproar when pro-choice President Barack Obama was invited to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame University. (That protest was more than a little hypocritical, given the school's tradition of featuring pro-choice speakers including Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.) Now, Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley has announced he will boycott next week's graduation speech at Jesuit Boston College by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
For Cardinal O'Malley, Kenny's offense is his support for new legislation allowing Irish physicians to perform emergency abortion procedures only in those dire circumstances in which the life of the mother is in immediate jeopardy. That bill arose after the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar, who needlessly died in agony after doctors refused her pleas to terminate her already miscarried pregnancy. While the legislative debate continues, Halappanavar's husband has since accepted apologies from both University Hospital Galway and the midwife who told him as his wife was dying that "this is a Catholic country."
But as Huffington Post reported, Cardinal O'Malley is apparently in no mood for apologies:
In a statement Friday, O'Malley said abortion is "a crime against humanity" and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked Catholic institutions not to honor officials who promote it. Kenny is set to receive an honorary degree from BC at the May 20 commencement.
O'Malley said that since Boston College hasn't withdrawn its invitation, and Kenny hasn't declined it, "I shall not attend the graduation."
"It is my ardent hope that Boston College will work to redress the confusion, disappointment and harm caused by not adhering to the bishops' directives," he said.
As it turns out, O'Malley had no problem when another pro-choice politician addressed the graduates at Boston College. In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the BC commencement. While her appearance drew some protests from opponents of the Iraq War, Rice's supporters were predictably forgiving about her "mildly pro-choice" views. Among them was Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review, who three years later would join the crusaders denouncing Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama:
"I don't think BC is compromising any fundamental values by having her speak."
Lopez was far from alone. As you can see at the top of the page, Cardinal O'Malley was not only in attendance for Rice's 2006 speech, but applauded the pro-choice Republican.