Are Texas-based tea party groups being unfairly singled out for persecution by crazed IRS agents? Or, rather, are they in fact actually violating federal election laws and thus deserving of careful scrutiny? If you read Milwaukee's daily newpaper, you might think the former; but if you read Houston's daily paper, you might think the latter.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel jumped into the continuing fray over the Internal Revenue Service's handling of tea party requests for tax-free status last week by localizing the story. The paper's prominently placed headline fairly shouted: "IRS asked about Wisconsin recall, Texas tea party group says". The story went on:
The Northeast Tarrant Tea Party posted on its website that IRS officials asked for extensive information about the group's activities, including copies of all the tweets, Facebook posts and fliers that the group had sent out.
Julie McCarty, president of the Fort Worth, Texas, area tea party group, said the IRS also asked it to "explain our relationship with Verify the Recall," an effort to confirm the signatures that had been turned in last year as part of the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
McCarty said she thought it was clear that group had been unfairly targeted and was still waiting for a decision on its tax-exempt status. Her group had minimal involvement with the recall fight in Wisconsin or Verify the Recall, she said.
The group's application for 501(c)4 status, which would enable it to operate tax-free and accept anonymous donations, is still pending. But while that case is unresolved, check out what has happened with respect to another Texas-based tea party group. This headline just ran in the Houston Chronicle: "Judge rules tea party group a PAC, not a nonprofit". The story begins:
A Travis County district court judge ruled this week that a Houston-based tea party group is not a nonprofit corporation as it claims, but an unregistered political action committee that illegally aided the Republican Party through its poll-watching efforts during the 2010 elections.
The summary judgment by Judge John Dietz upheld several Texas campaign finance laws that had been challenged on constitutional grounds by King Street Patriots, a tea party organization known for its "True the Vote" effort to uncover voter fraud.
The ruling grew out of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party against the King Street Patriots. The Democrats charged that the organization made unlawful political contributions to the Texas Republican Party and various Republican candidates by training poll watchers in cooperation with the party and its candidates and by holding candidate forums only for GOP candidates.
Unlike the Journal Sentinel, the Chronicle story noted that as a nonprofit, King Street Patriots does not have to list its funders but by law then must not participate in partisan activity. To support a party or a candidate, a nonprofit must create a political action committee. PACs can be involved in partisan politics, but must list their donors.
Which is why tea party groups and massive outfits like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS want to be simultaneously treated as both political and not political. Because then they get to accept anonymous donations, they aren't taxable and they can be partisan, all just by asserting it. The IRS strained to figure out that intestinally designed argument. No wonder it took many months for a small band of low level IRS staffers to finally approve every single tea party application to date. The only real outrage is that they approved very single tea party application to date.
We'll wait with high expectations for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to catch up with this story and balance its early report with word of the Houston case. Yes, it's true: Important legal people looking at the goals and aims of the tea party [the name alone sounds kinda political, huh?!] are skeptical that those supposedly betrodden, intimidated groups should in great numbers so far have been approved for non-profit status by the IRS. Although, realistically speaking, we'll probably be waiting a long time to read about it in the Journal Sentinel.Related Links
There is this leak investigation of the AP, so we can’t get involved. Oh, there is an investigation of Benghazi, so we’re not responsible. The President and the executive branch need to govern on a daily basis and you can’t purchase immunity from governing....
But some institutions have a no-surprise rule, which is you need to make sure the person at the top, who is the president in this case, he is constitutionally responsible for the whole executive branch, to be told about things that are going on that are bad. And you can’t kind of say, oh, that happened last year and they’re investigating. You need to stop the bad things right away.
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"Look, I can't speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable."
Drudge links to this in a top-left headline reading "Law is irrelevant," which appears above the main headline: "'IRRELEVANT' WHERE OBAMA WAS DURING BENGHAZI," which links to another Weekly Standard clip of Pfeiffer — appearing, also this morning, on "Fox News Sunday" — saying "I don't remember what room the president was in on that night, and that's a largely irrelevant fact":
The double use of the word "irrelevant" seems significant, but let's notice the difference between the 2 usages.
In talking about Benghazi, the interviewer, Chris Wallace, is trying to extract a specific fact about the events, a fact that has not yet come out and that Pfeiffer might know. Pfeiffer blows out a tirade of truly irrelevant verbiage to distract us from the question asked, including the notion that the fact isn't important. Who cares where the physical body of Obama was as long as he was "in touch"?
Well, some people would like to know, so tell us the fact and let us decide what use to make of it. To withhold the fact — on the ground that, in your opinion, we don't need it — is to make us think it would be damaging. We're likely to think Obama went golfing or something like that. Otherwise, why not just cough up the irrelevant fact? It must be relevant, we think, at least for political purposes, or Pfeiffer wouldn't strain so hard to suppress it. (He does claim at one point that he doesn't remember where Obama was.)
But in the ABC interview, the use of "irrelevant" was mostly a bad choice of words, and it unnecessarily makes Pfeiffer seem cagey and evasive. The question is whether what the IRS did was illegal. Pfeiffer doesn't want to give a legal opinion. He says: "Look, I can't speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable." He could have put that more elegantly: I am not a lawyer, and this does need to be analyzed to determine if there were legal violations, but what I can say clearly and categorically — even if no laws were violated — is that the activity was outrageous and inexcusable.
Not every terrible policy is illegal. You can condemn a policy and vow to end it without determining that it's illegal. Pfeiffer — like Obama — concentrates moving forward and fixing problems, not prosecuting anyone for committing a crime in the process of doing the work of government. I can see why Pfeiffer wants to be circumspect about the question of whether anyone committed a crime, and he's only withholding his own legal opinion, not — as in the Fox News interview — trying to suppress a fact we'd like to know.
But the 1957 book "American Speech" tells us about its use in speech, which goes back to 1942:
In 1942, when I entered the U.S. Army..the disparaging term that's for the birds was in common use among officers and enlisted men... The metaphor alludes to birds eating droppings from horses and cattle. So "for the birds" is a way of saying "shit"!
This is especially amazing to me this morning as I'm pursuing a bird theme this morning, but I'd gone off-theme in the previous post to talk about Maureen Dowd's column and encountered the expression "sad sack" and learned for the first time that it's a short version of the WWII military slang "sad sack of shit."
How many more common expressions have a hidden shit theme dating back to World War II? If I encounter another one this morning by accident, it's going to feel cosmic. And don't tell me "cosmic" WWII slang for Coincidence Of Shit Metaphors In Combat.
"The onetime messiah seems like a sad sack, trying to bounce back from a blistering array of sins that are not even his fault."
The president should try candid; wistful and petulant aren’t getting him anywhere. The Republicans who are putting partisan gain above solving the country’s problems deserve a smackdown. Oh, please. That deserve-a-smackdown sentence is typical of what Obama's been saying for months. It's the very "wistful and petulant" that's not "getting him anywhere." And saying that a smackdown is deserved is perfectly passive. There's no solution there.
Is "try candid" a solution? It's very funny to say "try candid." Try. See if it works, because that other thing you've been doing hasn't worked. Candid is another means to an end, to be tried after dissembling has failed. Try it. For what end? Obviously not for its own sake or you wouldn't say try. The end must be partisan gain. Or... no, partisan gain is that terrible end sought by Republicans. Democrats are about solving the country’s problems.
How much attention does Maureen Dowd pay to her writing? I suspect that she giddily spins out colorful sentences. She's got a knack. But then she doesn't look at them critically. For example, that sentence I put in the post title:
The onetime messiah seems like a sad sack, trying to bounce back from a blistering array of sins that are not even his fault. Speaking of a blistering array... that's quite an array of images. And what's a blistering array? It's like the rays of the sun got into array and caused a second-degree sunburn. But the oldest meaning of the word "array" is military — soldiers lined up for battle. It's not really anything that sins do.
But Sad Sack has a military connotation to some of us who remember the old comic book character:
Sad Sack was "an otherwise unnamed, lowly private experiencing some of the absurdities and humiliations of military life. The title was a euphemistic shortening of the military slang 'sad sack of shit,' common during WWII."
I doubt if Dowd meant to associate Obama with a sack of shit, but she asks us to picture this sack bouncing. Bouncing back from an array of sins. So the sins are arrayed in military formation — perhaps in the sun, with second-degree sunburns — and the sack of shit (which was once a messiah) is trying to bounce, as if bouncing is a good response to an organized military attack.
Seems like a sad sack, trying to bounce back... I take it that's an accidental rhyme, just one more lump dingleberry of evidence that Dowd doesn't look critically at her writing, but it's possible, considering her reference to Obama's statement that "he dreams of 'going Bulworth,' a reference to the Warren Beatty movie in which a depressed and fading Democratic senator from California starts rapping, speaking with politically incorrect candor and dating Halle Berry." Seems like a sad sack, trying to bounce back... that could be a line in a rap. But no, it's an unintentional rhyme. Just as throwing Halle Berry into that riff about Bulworth unintentionally imputes an adultery component to Obama's Dreams From Warren Beatty.
Huitzilopochtli's name is a combination of two Nahuatl (or Aztecan) words, huitzilin, meaning hummingbird, and opochtli, which means left — the god's name translates literally as "Hummingbird on the Left." This resulted in Huitzilopochtli often being depicted as a blue- or green-colored hummingbird or as a warrior whose armor and helmet were made of hummingbird features.... More here:
Huitzilopochtli's mother was Coatlicue, and his father was a ball of feathers....
His sister, Coyolxauhqui, tried to kill their mother because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Her offspring, Huitzilopochtli, learned of this plan while still in the womb, and before it was put into action, sprang from his mother's womb fully grown and fully armed. He then killed his sister Coyolxauhqui and many of his 400 brothers. He tossed his sister's head into the sky, where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night. He threw his other brothers and sisters into the sky, where they became the stars.
"Since the time of the pharaohs, Egyptians have raised nets every autumn along the Mediterranean, to capture golden orioles, nightingales and corncrakes..."
A few scattered nets along the coast have metastasized into a nearly impenetrable wall of traps, stretching almost without break from the Gaza strip in the east to the Libyan border in the west. Conservative estimates set the annual death toll of migratory birds in this area at 10 million, but others say it is probably an order of magnitude more.
In some areas, especially near Libya, the birds are caught for subsistence, by people who currently have no other way to feed themselves, but the vast majority, perhaps eighty percent of the birds trapped, are sold in markets as a pricey delicacy or hocked to high-end restaurants in Cairo for up to five euros for each slight songbird.
This has been the most depressing post I have ever put together. Three robins but no blue jay? Seven cardinals but no owls or hawks? Five filthy mockingbirds? This is what we pay taxes for, folks.
Obama "is deeply concerned both that his office... never violate its primary duty to abide by the Constitution’s checks and balances..."
Says Harvard lawprof Laurence Tribe, quoted in a Washington Post article amusingly titled "President Obama exercises a fluid grip on the levers of power."
Were the Victorians cleverer than us? The decline in general intelligence estimated from a meta-analysis of the slowing of simple reaction time
It started on its upward course during the bellicose years when the two tough, smart, uncompromising leaders Scott Jensen in the Assembly and Chuck Chvala in the Senate ordered an end to the casual camaraderie that had characterized those two bodies for years.
The public show in both houses had been somewhere between bitter and vitriolic, but the after hours was where the deals were made and the rhetoric toned down. The watering holes were off the record and populated by seemingly irreconcilable partisans from both sides. Breaking bread together was common, neither encouraged nor frowned upon.
The respect for the trade and its practitioners was evident despite the disputatious nature of the institutions.
In the winter of 2011 and the recall rants that followed camaraderie was out the window and the toxicity level went ballistic. The issues that were the worthy subjects of debate and disagreement became personal. “He said, she said,” escalated to, “If he [or she] is for it, I’m against it.”
Compromise and civility were history. Ideological purity and rigidity reigned.
The toxicity level reached 100.
One respected veteran of the legislative wars predicted, “It will take 30 years to get over this.”
I asked the journalists Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, who had reported on the wars of 2011 at the time and revisited and updated them in their admirable book, where they thought the toxic index was. They thought it was still high, but dropping ever so slightly.
A good sign.
A better sign is the informal survey taken by a newly elected member of the Assembly who said that a good third of the group that came in in 2012 said their constituents had been vocal and firm about their desire to see if not peace a lower level of conflict in that chamber.
Organized sociability was common in the last third of the last century where a series of governors brought presumed enemies together at the executive residence for drinks and dinner along with citizens, administrators, academics, and others who didn’t belong to the same clubs or hang out at the same taverns in their home venues either.
These soirees have been more rarely used in the new millennium and hardly ever as an antidote to the rising toxicity downtown.
And Washington is reputably as bad or worse. A new member of Congress has said that there has been one social occasion since November when an event in DC brought the partisans under the same roof. A long series of Wisconsin governors would have told the president, if asked, that he might have followed their example and hosted more than a few of those kinds of occasions himself.
What we need is a sociologist to creative a Toxicity Index along with the criteria used to measure the intensity of the affliction. The questions should go beyond attendance at official occasions. Co-sponsorship of legislation would be a factor. Hanging out together in the off hours at places where guns are figuratively left at the door, and all who enter are welcome and comfortable. Talking to, instead of at, each other. Even freeing whatever free spirits there are in today’s legislators from caucus control.
It’s not against the rules for cabinet secretaries to invite legislators out for or to their homes for dinner.
Driving to work together. How many deals were cut by the carpoolers from central Wisconsin on the way to and from Madison in the not-so-distant past?
Does that 10 percent approval rating bother anybody? Outsiders are asking why they should respect people who don’t respect their trade or each other. It’s a legitimate question.
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