Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why There's No Scandal in the Obama Scandals

I see some of my friends with rightward leanings are finding it disappointing that the general populace is not frothy with outrage over the Obama scandals.  He is the worst president in US history, right?  Although the usual suspects of short attention spans and celebrity obsession could be used as justification for the lack of interest, I suspect it has more to do with the accurate gleaning that there's no substance to the alleged scandals.  Let's take a look at the triumverate (and throw in an old one the rightists still lovingly cling to).

First, there's Benghazi.  This one shifts around a bit as to why Obama's so bad.  He either sent Ambassador Stevens into a poorly secured area or failed to recognize that the attack would occur in the first place.  Short of having an entire Army division along, I'm not sure what security would have sufficed to repel the attack.  Considering how many unstable areas we have personnel in the Middle East, it's not a particularly good use of resources to send that much protection with each of our personnel.  Likely to stir up more trouble, for that matter.  Stevens also knew of the dangers but declined additional security for the trip.  There's also no evidence that there was intelligence suggesting this attack was imminent.  Not surprisingly, there's a dearth of information in the chaos that is Libya, post revolution.

Of course, the other line of attack is that once the attack started Obama abandoned Stevens and the others to their fates.  The fact that they were killed before anyone with authority to order anything even knew about it seems to be irrelevant in this line of "reasoning".  The fact that there was no one close enough to effectively help, nor an armed drone in the vicinity, also seems to be irrelevant. 

Why Benghazi is a scandal and an exemplar of failure as president while the 60 or so personnel killed in various attacks on American outposts during G. W. Bush's tenure is not, nor the Beirut bombing during Reagan's tenure, is a mystery to anyone not trapped in the amber of right wing talk.

Second is the IRS scandal.  There's actually a semblance of substance to this one.  The singling of rightist groups to provide additional evidence of qualification for a tax filing status came in the wake of the Citizens United decision and the resultant flood of groups seeking a new tax status to take advantage of that decision.  The sin wasn't that the IRS sought proof that these groups qualified for the tax status.  The sin was that they didn't seek the same proof from everyone else applying for the status.  This is a far cry from Nixon and Hoover maintaining secret lists of enemies and using government agencies to target enemies for harrassment.  This isn't remotely an example of the IRS pursuing groups who opposed Obama.  All that happened was the IRS made the groups provide proof that they qualified for the tax status they sought.  

Third, and really least important to the rightists, is the investigation of reporters by the FBI.  There are two separate cases in this one.  The AP investigation is about a leak of information surrounding US interception of a Yemen based bombing plot.  The Fox News investigation is about leaking of information about North Korean intelligence gathering.  Both leaks endangered the lives of sources of information and make it much harder to recruit new sources when they rightly believe their identities will be leaked, directly or indirectly.  Both investigations were done via subpoena, not simply the FBI instituting wire taps unilaterally and unchecked.  Perhaps this one is low on the scandal radar because if any Republican were president the rightists would be all in favor of these investigations.  There's been more umbrage in the media, who would like unfettered access to every government document, than anyone else.

Then there's the old favorite of Operation Fast and Furious.  This one has been revived a bit because the rightist hate Holder almost as much as they hate Obama.  Once again, a local office is under the minute control of Obama and sent out guns to Mexican cartels, leading to the deaths of Americans.  Guns were sold to straw purchasers with the intent to track them to the cartels and break the cartels.  What seems to be ignored, conveniently, is that the programs that sold guns in this way started in 2006, three years before Obama was even president.  Operation Fast and Furious was just the latest in a string of those operations, larger in size than its predecessors.  ATF agents questioned the soundness of the logic behind the operation throughout, but without sway.  Curiously, those who use this to attack Obama tend toward the belief that more guns in the hands of people is a good thing and oppose the very background checks that would help eliminate the straw purchasers who passed along the guns to the cartels.

The problem with the dream of scandal that the rightists have is that they're conflating mistakes with scandal.  Could things have been done differently in each case?  Sure.  Was there some grand plan by Obama to undermine America?  Surely not.  When your underlying belief is that Obama is the worst president in US history you're going to be inclined to take mistakes by career employees of the government and inflate them to grand schemes by a man you don't believe has a right to be elected president, let alone that he actually was.  Twice.  Evidently the majority of the public is recognizing these scandals for what they are, or more accurately, aren't. 

Obama is no Nixon or Johnson in the realm of abuse of power, nor is he inept like Carter or Hoover.  He's a man without the power of pursuasion to convince a House leadership that despises him to govern instead of grandstand.  Considering what the House has done in its 2 years in power, it's a wonder it isn't worse.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lost Art of Journalism

In the last two days I've become convinced that journalism is an entirely dead art.  Apparently those who are supposed to be practicing it don't understand the occupation.  Admittedly, my conclusion is not based on a wide sample and one of the samples is a suspiciously biased writer in the first place, but it's still troubling.

First, yesterday I came across a column written by Matthew Boyle of Breitbart.  He wrote that State Farm is moving its headquarters from Illinois to Texas.  The reason for this conclusion?  State Farm is building a huge new office complex outside of Dallas.  He also noted State Farm is building a huge office near Phoenix but didn't conclude that State Farm is moving there.  Of course, there could be no reason but that Democratically controlled Illinois raised corporate taxes.  Nevermind that the 67% increase is actual a nominal increase off of a very low rate to begin with.  State Farm is going to move its headquarters because, what else would they do with all this huge space but move the large number of people currently in Bloomington, IL? 

Well, how about hire a whole new workforce for a new design on handling claims?  Or how about moving existing employees, whose numbers are in the thousands all across the US, to these new offices?  Either one is an equally valid conclusion from the objective fact that State Farm is building a large new complex.  Neither of those fit in with Boyle's pre-conceived notion that corporate taxes are evil and will cause companies to flee.  The fact has to be pigeon holed into the concept, regardless of other facts that interfere with the conclusion. 

Second, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has a column today that castigates the Obama administration for investigating a Fox reporter who sought secret State Department information about North Korea.  Milbank quotes the reporter's e-mail to the sought after source as follows: “I want to report authoritatively, and ahead of my competitors, on new initiatives or shifts in U.S. policy, events on the ground in [North Korea], what intelligence is picking up, etc. . . . I’d love to see some internal State Department analyses. . . . In short: Let’s break some news, and expose muddle-headed policy when we see it, or force the administration’s hand to go in the right direction, if possible.”

Excuse me, but how is the Fox reporter acting as a reporter?  He's got a set notion that the administration (in 2009) is muddle-headed and it's his duty to substitute his correct view of policy by way of exposing the administration, never mind if it risks the lives of sources in North Korea.  How is the administration's investigation somehow an impingement on a free press?  A guy who says he's out to get the administration regardless of consequence is not a reporter.  He's an advocate.

Now, both of these pieces were written by columnists and not reporters.  The former masked his column as though it were news reporting, giving it a headline that read

Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Flees Illinois

The latter made no bones that he was advocating, but he advocated for someone as though that person were a reporter when clearly he was not.