In IRS and AP scandals, a frighteningly impotent government

The Anglosaxon Agony - Part. IIAt a time when Congress can’t pass a budget and the president can’t win approval of any important legislation, the public is indignant about the threat of an overreaching, all-powerful federal government that uses the IRS and the Justice Department to harass its enemies. President Obama hasn’t begun to fix the big problem of Washington dysfunction, but he moved Wednesday to respond to public anger and reposition his sinking administration. He fired the acting IRS commissioner, released a blizzard of e-mails on Benghazi and backed a shield law to protect the journalists. It was fancy footwork in public-relations terms but not a reaction to what’s really ailing federal government. Crippling problem in D.C. these days isn’t any organized conspiracy against conservatives, the journalists or anyone else. Rather, it’s a federal establishment that’s increasingly paralyzed because of poor management+political second-guessing. What should frighten the public is not federal government’s monstrous power but its impotence. Firing officials has its place in bringing accountability. What’s really needed, as these latest episodes show, is adult supervision of bureaucracy. This requires senior officials who are properly sensitive to political issues. But such officials have become so afraid of seeming to meddle that mistakes happen. Where was the senior manager who should have stopped IRS employees from writing outrageous questionnaires + search queries targeting “Patriots” and “We the People”? Perhaps that person was wading through congressional messages urging IRS investigations of tax-exempt political groups. Where was the top Justice Department official who should have checked a runaway prosecutor from issuing an over-broad subpoena to the Associated Press? The attorney general recused himself because of fear of a perceived conflict of interest. Perhaps lower-level officials were chilled by congressional demands for leak investigations, and insinuations the administration was itself the guilty party. The principal activity of the federal government these days is investigating itself. No panel is bipartisan and independent enough to escape a charge it is covering something up. This accusation has been leveled against the review panel on Benghazi headed by Tom Pickering, the former undersecretary of state, and Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Good grief, if these two are part of a conspiracy, I’m moving to Moscow. If you unpack the various scandals swirling around Washington this week, you find a common theme of bad decisions by government officials, compounded by a finger-pointing and second-guessing from Congress. Here are some moments in this chain of error (…..)

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-in-irs-and-ap-scandals-a-dysfunctional-government/2013/05/15/137ba9de-bd92-11e2-9b09-1638acc3942e_story.html

Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

5 Responses to In IRS and AP scandals, a frighteningly impotent government

  1. Note to GOP re Benghazi: Stop calling it Watergate, Iran-contra, bigger than both, etc. First, it might well be, but we don’t know. History will judge. Second, overhyping will only diminish the importance of the scandal if it doesn’t meet presidency-breaking standards. Third, focusing on the political effects simply plays into the hands of Democrats desperately claiming that this is nothing but partisan politics. Let the facts speak for themselves. They are damning enough. Let Gregory Hicks, the honorable, apolitical second-in-command that night in Libya, movingly and grippingly demolish the president’s Benghazi mantra that “what I have always tried to do is just get all the facts” and “every piece of information that we got, as we got it, we laid it out for the American people.” On the contrary. Far from assiduously gathering and releasing information, the administration was assiduously trying to control and suppress it (…..)


    Note to the White House: Try the truth. It’s easier to memorize.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-redacted-truth-subjunctive-outrage/2013/05/16/de28aee8-be64-11e2-97d4-a479289a31f9_story.html

  2. (…..) In any event, the impulse to uncover a top-down operation misses a larger point. The conspiracy talk of the moment reflects the broader unease many Americans, left and right, feel not just toward the I.R.S. but toward the federal government and the outsize part it plays in our daily lives. At times it can seem an abstract, distant force, bent on its own aggrandizement, often at the expense of individual citizens. It is in this light that the report released last week by the Treasury Department’s inspector general is best understood. As deplorable as the steps taken by I.R.S. officers seem to have been — involving, as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it, “aggressive and burdensome questionnaires as part of the process of applying for tax-exempt status” — the report indicates that, whatever motives may have driven the wrongdoers, their modus operandi was not to violate established procedures but to execute them with excessive zeal. Rather than secretly sabotaging the targeted groups, they seem to have ensnared them in dense thickets of red tape. It is a frustration many of us have experienced when dealing with government agencies, above all the I.R.S., which not only takes our money but then also makes us mail the check to an address we need a map to locate. With its colossal size and tentacular reach, 100,000 employees working in more than 1,000 offices across the country, the I.R.S. is “the largest law-enforcement agency in the nation,” a character remarks in David Foster Wallace’s satirical novel “The Pale King,” a best seller when it was published in 2011. Largely set in an imagined regional I.R.S. office in Peoria, Ill. — it could easily stand in for the Cincinnati office where the current abuses occurred — “The Pale King” explores the bewildering minutiae of the tax code and those who enforce it while also capturing the hostility toward the agency that runs through much of American thinking. As one character, an I.R.S. officer, explains, “We’re the government, its worst face — the rapacious creditor, the stern parent.” The menace comes in the day-to-day workings of a bureaucracy that functions far from view, accountable only to itself. This is an argument conservatives have made for many years, dating back as far as the political theories of James Burnham, whose 1941 book “The Managerial Revolution” was an early classic on an emerging new governing class, the “bureaucratic elite” (…..)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/sunday-review/the-governments-worst-face.html

  3. (…..)


    In this view, the I.R.S. is by definition an alien and “rogue” agency, not to be trusted even when it plays by the rules. A case like the present one, in which those rules have been twisted for what appear to be ideological purposes, is bound to provoke intense indignation, directed not merely at the I.R.S. but at the larger agenda it appears to be serving. As one of Mr. Wallace’s I.R.S. agents notes of “TPs,” the novel’s shorthand for taxpayers, “They hate the government — we’re just the most convenient incarnation of what they hate.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/sunday-review/the-governments-worst-face.html

  4. You can argue that Republicans have blocked President Obama from doing just about anything. You can argue that he’s had bad luck. You can argue that he isn’t always the greatest orator. But you can’t argue away that the Department of Justice took the unprecedented step of seizing phone records from the Associated Press. Or the flimsy rationale justifying drone attacks abroad and at home. Or the bizarre step the Pentagon has taken to expand the ability of the military to intervene in state and local matters. Or the fact that Guantanamo Bay is still open years after Obama vowed he would close it, and the US is making headlines for force feeding inmates. These are actions that President Obama and his top team have taken on their own. Yes, the various scandals have been politicized this week. That’s the American we live in today, but even among Obama voters, there should be genuine disappointment. This not the President Obama we voted for, not even close. I was in Washington DC the night that Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. As usual, people were hopping from bar to bar to watch the returns come in and high five friends (or boo, in some cases). When it became clear that Obama had won and he gave his victory speech, something happened that I have rarely witnessed in America: spontaneous demonstrations broke out. People started marching down some of the main streets, many shaking keys or banging on pots and pans. Others carried American flags. Cars honked (more than usual) in solidarity. It was mostly young people marching – from varied backgrounds. Many of these parades ended up in front of the White House where chants of “goodbye Bush” (or some variation thereof) began. It was the same slogan heard as Barack Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009 and Bush flew away in a helicopter.


    There was a belief, especially among voters in their 20s and 30s, that Obama was going to be different. That his promises to “change the culture in Washington” were real. That his administration wouldn’t be beholden to lobbyists and conduct executive power grabs. That any wars would be justified. This was, after all, the candidate who put statements on his website like: “The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the ‘state secrets’ privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court” (…..)

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/17/president-obama-scandals-disappoint-supporters

  5. We know American politics are dysfunctional. But after a week of scandal obsession during which the nation’s capital and the media virtually ignored the problems most voters care about — jobs, incomes, growth, opportunity, education — it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy. Our circumstances certainly have their own particular disabilities: a radicalization of conservative politics, over-the-top mistrust of President Obama on the right, high-tech gerrymandering in the House and a Senate snarled by non-constitutional super-majority requirements. Still, while it may not be much of a comfort, the democratic distemper is not a peculiarly American phenomenon. Across most of the democratic world, there is an impatience bordering on exhaustion with electoral systems and political classes. Citizen dissatisfaction is hardly surprising in the wake of a deeply damaging economic downturn. That doesn’t make the challenge any less daunting. We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it. It’s not hard to discover that this conundrum is global and not just our own. “Has democracy had its day?” is the headline on Columbia University historian Mark Mazower’s cover story in the May issue of Prospect, a British magazine. The subhead: “Electoral politics has had a bad decade.” Earlier this month, the Transatlantic Academy, a global partnership of think tanks led by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, issued “The Democratic Disconnect,” a sober report by a group of distinguished academics (…..)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-political-dysfunctions-spells-trouble-for-democracies/2013/05/19/757fedba-bf28-11e2-97d4-a479289a31f9_story.html

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