The Lost ‘Trifecta of Scandals’

From CNN to the Washington Post, the mainstream news media is abuzz about “the trifecta of scandals” besetting the Obama administration, a narrative that fails to assess the actual significance of the three “scandals.” They don’t measure up to the many important scandals that the media neglects, says Beverly Bandler.

By Beverly Bandler

Appropriate questions should be asked and answered about the controversies over the IRS screening of 501-c-4 applications, the subpoenas for AP phone calls, and the Benghazi attack. Abuse of power should be checked with vigor, but hysteria should be avoided. These issues require calm and reasoned perspective. Outrage should be reserved for real scandals of which there are plenty.

However, as some commentators rush to judgment especially about the IRS “scandal,” a review of some genuine scandals – past and present – may be in order:

President Barack Obama talks with, from left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Gene Sperling, National Economic Council Director, and Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Legislative Affairs, in the Oval Office, May 8, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A real scandal is the lying to the American people by George W. Bush and his administration about non-existent WMD that led us into the illegal and immoral Iraq War (and the related scandals of torture, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan). Bush’s actions caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of horrific injuries and the destruction and destabilization of Iraq. The United States will pay for that scandal for generations, not only in money but in loss of respect.

A real scandal is the complicity of Ronald Reagan in “grotesque human rights crimes including genocide in Central America, his tolerance of drug trafficking by his anticommunist clients, and his support for sophisticated propaganda operations to destroy troublesome journalists and other investigators,” as journalist Robert Parry reported after Reagan’s ally, ex-Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, was found guilty of genocide in an extermination campaign backed by Reagan in the 1980s.

A real scandal is the extent to which radical right-wing conservatives have managed to corrupt, to some extent, every single agency in the Executive Branch, for instance: restrictions placed on the Center for Disease Control by the National Rifle Association, the constant right-wing threats against the Environmental Protection Agency, and the latest threat of the GOP to render the National Labor Relations Board inoperative. There’s also been the ideological corruption of the Judicial Branch.

A real scandal is the magnitude of air and water pollution across the nation along with worsening threat of global warming, while government efforts to address these problems are obstructed by GOP corporatists.

A real scandal is the conservatives’ use of one “study,” the Reinhart/Rogoff report to push for an austerity budget when the “study” has now been exposed as fraudulent – and the austerity theory itself revealed to be fraudulent – while the rich get richer and millions of Americans face long-term unemployment.

A real scandal is the extent of poverty in the United States with almost half of Americans dying close to penniless, in a nation in which the top one-hundredth of one percent average some $27 million per household while the average income for the bottom 90 percent is a little over $31,000.

A real scandal is how consistently the United States lags in international measurements for education (17th in the developed world) and for health care (37th out of 191 countries). Increasingly, ignorance shapes the national discourse with many Americans who rate the Benghazi case a major scandal not even knowing where it is.

A real scandal is the deliberate misinterpretation of the Second Amendment by the Right for political purposes and to serve the firearms industry, a distortion compounded the failure of the Left and centrist politicians to challenge the falsehoods. General citizens and corporate journalists apparently don’t read history and the Constitution – or are unfamiliar with the English language.

A real scandal is the continued takeover of the United States political and economic system by the military-industrial complex and by corporations, a power grab facilitated by five right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and their 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That decision also laid the groundwork for the current IRS “scandal” because so many right-wing groups rushed to exploit the 501-c-4 tax-exempt “social welfare” category to carry out their political agendas.

The “social welfare” category was established for civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare. In 1959, under the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, the meaning of this section was changed dramatically when the IRS decided the word “exclusively” could, in effect, be read as “primarily.”

“For 54 years, the IRS has gotten away with the crime of changing the word ‘exclusively’ to ‘primarily,” said Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word  Monday. “The IRS took a hard, clear word like ‘exclusively’ and changed it into a soft word  ’primarily’ and then left it to the IRS agents to determine if your organization was primarily concerned  with the promotion of social welfare.”

Thus, when the Supreme Court issued Citizens United in 2010 — prompting a flood of new 501-c-4 applications —  some IRS bureaucrats sought ways to detect which of the applicants were likely exploiting the loophole. That led to the controversial use of word searches that were viewed as targeting Tea Party groups.

“The IRS does need some kind of test that helps them weed out political organizations attempting to register as tax-exempt 501(c)4  social welfare groups,” wrote Ezra Klein in the Wonkblog Monday. “But that test has to be studiously, unquestionably neutral.”

Another real scandal is why the perpetrators of the financial crisis that began in late 2007 have not been held accountable and – when the evidence is clear – why they have not been brought to trial. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, suggests, the banks and other guilty parties need to be taken to court.

A real scandal is how the Bush administration and the Republican Party cratered the economy, giving the nation a full decade without net jobs growth and leaving behind a crippling depression. A real scandal is how the Republican Party held the debt ceiling hostage in 2011 and may well try it again.

A real scandal is how the GOP has been taken over by anti-democratic, anti-rational, anti-science, neo-confederate, nihilist, obstructionist, corporatist forces – becoming a political party unlike one ever seen in U.S. history. Conservatism is one thing, crazy is another.

Former Republican Mike Lofgren describes the GOP as “less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and … more like an apocalyptic cult,” one that is “ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.”

It is also a party of liars and one ruthlessly determined to destroy a president because he’s a Democrat – along with the Democratic Party – to impose an authoritarian, neo-fascist regime on the United States.

A real scandal is how the right-wing propaganda juggernaut has manipulated the corporate media and exploited American naïveté, lack of information and fear, and how the listless Left with its “learned helplessness” has let right-wing extremists get away with it by failing to “step up to the plate” with an effective investment in public outreach.

Below, I have provided a list of links related to the IRS story. I don’t pretend to have them all, but have tried to provide a decent selection. ThinkProgress and Mother Jones are particularly informative and rational as usual. I hope they are helpful to you.

Oh, by the way, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the deficit “crisis” is solved for the next ten years. Now there’s a story.

Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico.

Beckel, Michael. “IRS Employees Back Obama. Democrats.” The Center for Public Integrity, 2013-05-15.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-center-for-public-integrity/irs-employees-back-obama_b_3278655.html
Bernstein, Jared. “Blame Citizens United for the IRS scandal. The real outrage is why these political groups have tax-exempt status in the first place. Salon, 2013-05-15. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/15/blame_citizens_united_for_the_irs_scandal_partner/
Bouie, Jamelle. “Is the IRS ‘Scandal’ Even a Scandal?” The IRS made a political blunder, but not a bureaucratic one. The American Prospect, 2013-05-15. http://prospect.org/article/irs-scandal-even-scandal
Dickerson, John. IRS, AP, EPA, President Obama is doing more to help the cause of conservatism than anyone since Reagan.”
2013-05-14. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2013/05/barack_obama_irs_and_associated_press_scandals_the_president_s_administration.html [I find Dickerson’s hyperbole ridiculous, but I’ll include it for reference.] Figueroa, Alyssa. WATCH: “Stewart Ridicules Obama for Apparent Cluelessness on Administration’s Latest Scandals.” Obama on when he learned about IRS targeting conservative groups: “I think it was on Friday.” AlterNet, 2013-05-15. http://www.alternet.org/economy/watch-stewart-ridicules-obama-apparent-cluelessness-administrations-latest-scandals
Goodman, Peter S. “The IRS Was Dead Right to Scrutinize Tea Party.” The Huffington Post, 2013-05-15. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-s-goodman/irs-tea-party_b_3280063.html
Hartmann, Thom. “The Real IRS Scandal.” Campaign for America’s Future, 2013-05-15. http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130515/the-real-irs-scandal?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-real-irs-scandal
Klein, Ezra. “The IRS report: Insubordination and incompetence, but not much of a conspiracy.” Washington Post, 2013-05-14. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/14/the-irs-report-insubordination-and-incompetence-but-not-much-of-a-conspiracy/
_______ “CBO says deficit problem is solved for the next ten years.” Washington Post, 2013-05-14. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/14/cbo-says-deficit-problem-is-solved-for-the-next-10-years/
Kroll, Andy. “5 Things You Need to Know in the Inspector General’s IRS Tea Party Scandal Report.” How and why IRS staffers subjected conservative nonprofits to special scrutiny. MotherJones, 2012-05-15. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/irs-tea-party-ig-report-congress
_______“Ex-IRS Director: Tea Party Groups Deserved Scrutiny, But IRS Bungled the Job.” Mother Jones, 2013-05-15. http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/05/irs-director-marcus-owens-tea-party-scandal
_______“The IRS Tea Party Scandal, Explained.” It’s Washington’s new outrage. What exactly happened and who is responsible?MotherJones, 2013-05-14. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/irs-tea-party-scandal-congress-nonprofit-obama
Maddow, Rachel. VIDEO. IRS “scandal.” Rachel Maddow & Dan Rather discuss. 2013-05-15. http://americablog.com/2013/05/rachel-maddow-irs-scandal-dan-rather-video.html
Matthews, Dylan. “Everything you need to know about the IRS scandal in one FAQ.” Washington Post, 2012-05-14.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/14/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-irs-scandal-in-one-faq/
Nuzzi, Olivia. “Joe Scarborough and Other Republicans’ Complete Hypocrisy on the IRS and Political Speech.” ‘Morning Joe’ once demanded IRS investigate NAACP. AlterNet, 2013-05-15. http://www.alternet.org/joe-scarborough-and-other-republicans-complete-hypocrisy-irs-and-political-speech
Palmer, Brian. “Taxing One’s Enemies: A brief history of scandals at the IRS.” Slate, 2013-05-14. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2013/05/irs_targeting_the_tea_party_a_history_of_tax_agency_scandals.html
Parry, Robert. “The Right’s ‘Scandal’ Funhouse Mirror.” ConsortiumNews, 2013-05-14. http://consortiumnews.com/2013/05/14/the-rights-scandal-funhouse-mirror/
Rayfield, Jillian. “Holder: IRS probe to look at possible civil rights violations, false statements .” Salon, 2013-05-15. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/15/holder_irs_probe_to_look_at_possible_civil_rights_violations_false_statements
_______ IRS: Two “rogue” employees targeted the Tea Party. Acting IRS chief Steven Miller reportedly blamed two “overly aggressive” employees for the reviews. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/15/irs_two_rogue_employees_targeted_the_tea_party/
Rich, Frank. Frank Rich on the National Circus: “The IRS, Benghazi, and the Republicans Who Cried Wolf.” New York Magazine, 2013-05-13. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/05/frank-rich-gop-finds-a-new-watergate.html
Rosenfeld, Steven. “The Real Scandal: Official Washington Goes Nuts Over IRS Doing Its Job.” Voter intimidation groups say they were intimidated by the IRS. AlterNet, 2013-05-14. http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/real-scandal-official-washington-goes-nuts-over-irs-doing-its-job
Seitz-Wald, Alex. “When the IRS targeted liberals.” Under George W. Bush, it went after the NAACP, Greenpeace, and even a liberal church. Salon, 2013-05-14. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/14/when_the_irs_targeted_liberals/
Sirota, David. “Stop holding Democrats to a different standard.” The recent IRS flap shows an obvious double standard in Washington’s reactions to Bush era and Obama era misconduct. Salon, 2013-05-14. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/14/on_scandals_obama_held_to_higher_standard_than_bush/
Stein, Sam. “Obama on IRS Scandal: ‘I have No Patience’ for It.” The Huffington Post, 2013-05-13. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/obama-irs-scandal_n_3266577.html
Toobin, Jeffrey. “The Real I.R.S. Scandal.” The New Yorker, 2013-05-14. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/05/irs-scandal-tea-party-oversight.html
Walsh, Joan. “Meet the group the IRS actually denied: Democrats!” Although Tea Party applicants got unfair IRS scrutiny, only one known group had status revoked. They’re Democrats. Salon, 2013-05-15. http://www.salon.com/2013/05/15/meet_the_group_the_irs_actually_revoked_democrats/
Weigel, David. “Here’s the Troublesome Part of the IG Report That Rescues Top Democrats from the IRS Scandal.” Slate, 2013-05-15. http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2013/05/15/here_s_the_troublesome_part_of_the_ig_report_that_rescues_top_democrats.html
Weisman, Jonathan and Matthew L. Wald. “I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. An Issue to Seize On.” New York Times, 2013-05-12. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/us/politics/republicans-call-for-irs-inquiry-after-disclosure.html?gwh=03147B1C5B13A21B8DD76700F48AA2E1

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4 comments on “The Lost ‘Trifecta of Scandals’

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Ms. Bandler,

    In today’s America, victory goes to the one who launches the “meme” or fires the “soundbite” first. These are linguistic tricks which the Republicans have mastered and the Democrats fail to perceive…except for the Orator in Chief, who uses them better than anyone. But not to advance a progressive agenda.

    “IRS Targets Conservative Political Opponents”. The immediate response was not a rebuttal or an explanation. It was the acceptance of the Acting IRS Commissioner’s resignation, which amounts, in the eyes of the public, to an admission of guilt. That may not have been the correct response, but it certainly was the politically savvy one. Machiavelli would have been impressed. Then, there was the promise, standing beside Prime Minister Erdogan, to “get to the bottom” of the matter, or some such aquiescence.

    But the REALLY masterful Orwellian doublespeak came on the heels of a question about the surveillance of the AP’s phone records. It was the “false equivalence” argument for “striking a balance” between freedom of the press and the need to protect “national security”. As the leak in question regarded a plot concocted in Yemen, it must be born in mind that our drone warfare there is regarded by numerous agencies as a violation of international law. The safety of the Troops, “That I have” in places where they could be exposed to harm was also invoked.

    The United States Constitution is quite clear on the prerequisites for use of military force. Elective drone warfare in Yemen, and the resulting threat of retaliation it provokes, is not an exigency sanctioned by The Constitution. Freedom of the Press, on the other hand, is specifically MANDATED by The Constitution. It is the sworn duty of both The President and The Attorney General to support, protect and defend The Constitution, not “national security”. There can be no “balance” struck between the unintended consequences of elective war and the freedoms guaranteed by The Constitution. Illegal activity does not nullify a law intended to discourage its violation in the first place.

    If this travesty is allowed to stand, then you are correct. Much has been made of nothing regarding Benghazi and most of the other “faux” scandals of late. In a “National Security State”, the laws used to target specific groups become institutionalized. They eventually enlarge and expand to become applied universally. The “Citizen’s United” decision was the “enabling act” of our time. “Striking a balance” between “national security” and Constitutionally protected freedoms is a de facto transition to Fascism. But your article, like my comment, lacks the impact of a meme or a soundbite. I doubt that anyone takes my comments seriously. But I certainly hope they read your article. We may have already passed the “tipping point”. I am not optimistic that thoughtful explanations or reasoned rebuttals are any longer likely to prevail. But, it’s worth a try. Thanks for your article.

  2. Eddie on said:

    Excellent article, which (if I may) stresses the one thing that arguably is the most important single problem in our country and world today… ‘proportionality’. If the majority of the public could do a better job of reacting to ideas, events, and policies in a realistic proportion to their importance, we would be in a VERY different world.

  3. SFOMARCO on said:

    Thank you, Beverly. I am SICK of watching CNN’s ENDLESS promos for arrogant blowhard Cristiana Amanpour’s program, “Americans are demanding answers” (re Benghazi)

  4. hustleralert on said:

    leave it to outsourced public relations officer to counter-spin.