Who’s Paying Attention?

If you don’t watch Fox News or depend on other alternative media sources, you might think the IRS scandal is passé because you haven’t heard much about it lately. That appears to be a deliberate choice of the other networks and newspaper outlets. Yet there is a lot going on. Well, let me rephrase that: there is a lot of avoidance of finding the facts going on. It’s not due to a lack of diligence by the Congress; Republicans in the House are demanding answers but are getting none.

The newly appointed IRS commissioner, Daniel Werfel, who was recently one of the president’s advisers in the White House, came out with a report earlier this week that was at first hailed by Democrats and other assorted liberals, progressives, and radicals. It led us to believe that there was no specific targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. Why, they even investigated organizations that had words like “progressive” in their names, we were told. The report basically said, “Hey, no one here did anything really wrong.”

Daniel Werfel

In other words, this former Obama insider—the fox who was put in charge of the hen house—found nothing of major concern in his investigation. Liberal groups rejoiced over this news, but their rejoicing was short-lived. Apparently, an honest person in the government—and no, that is not an oxymoron—came forward to correct this perception.

J. Russell GeorgeJ. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General, and the one who first identified the targeting problem, has given the facts: 292 conservative groups underwent extensive harassment by the IRS without ever getting their tax-exempt status, compared to 6 progressive organizations that were simply put on a list but never had to undergo any genuine scrutiny. The evidence of bias is overwhelming. True government servants like George deserve our gratitude.

As a result of George’s willingness to expose the lies, Werfel had a rather awkward and uncomfortable session before a House committee yesterday. May he have more. How can anyone have confidence in this new director after the events of this week?

What was even funnier, if that’s the right word, is that Werfel told the committee that his agency needed more funding. Why? For more conferences?

Audit Experience

The IRS comi-tragedy will continue, and the House will attempt to drag more information from those responsible for this fiasco. Of course, there are many other fiascoes underway concurrently, none of which seems to get the attention of the presumed leader of the Free World:

Somebody Audit Her

Never has a president been so absent from the pressing issues of his administration. Even Richard Nixon kept commenting when Watergate was unfolding. This president just tries to change the subject whenever he deigns to do anything at all:

 Save the Planet

Yes, he has time to make speeches about climate change being the premier problem of our age—despite evidence to the contrary—but no time to speak to China or Russia about Edward Snowden or to be honest and forthcoming about what happened on September 11, 2012, in Benghazi. How does he think he can get away with this? Is it because he has a good understanding of the attention span and interests of the American public?

 Full Brain

Unfortunately, that may be the case.

True & False Liberty

The latest political firestorm, the revelation of the extent of the NSA’s data-mining to include storage of records of nearly all phone calls placed by American citizens, has led to deep concerns about the liberties supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. These concerns are showing up regularly in political cartoons such as this one:

Free from Unreasonable Searches

I share that concern. I believe in liberty. However, this controversy has also helped highlight two very different definitions of liberty, one I believe to be true and the other false. My worldview is Biblical, so I want to view everything through that prism. There is a Biblical basis for liberty, properly understood, that is not the same thing as modern libertarianism. In fact, I consider that movement, however right it may be on some points, to be destructive of true Biblical liberty.

Here’s the difference: pure libertarians put the concept of liberty on a pedestal as the highest virtue. They are devoted to the idea that everyone should be able to do whatever they choose without any government telling them what is right or wrong. That is not liberty; it is license, and there’s a big difference. Now, the best libertarians do say that one’s actions can’t bring harm to another; I realize that. Yet what is their standard for determining “harm”? Pure libertarianism doesn’t think there’s a place for government to legislate on matters such as abortion, homosexual behavior, or anything else they deem private morality. Man is free to do as he wishes.

Again, I am a great believer in free will; that’s one of my theological cornerstones. But freedom—liberty, if you will—exists only within a framework of eternal right and wrong, and it is always attached to personal responsibility. Yes, I am “free” to sin, but there will be consequences. My sins, and those of others, don’t affect me alone; they ripple out into society and damage others, even those sins that some think are purely private. What you are in private will eventually show up in public. What you do in the privacy of your home will affect your character adversely over time, and that will be detrimental to society as a whole.

For many libertarians, civil government is no better than a necessary evil. I understand how one may come to that opinion even apart from libertarianism just by watching the actions of an administration such as the one under which we currently suffer. Yet government is not an evil, not if I truly comprehend the Biblical explanation of its source and purpose.

God & GovernmentThe most basic passage in the Bible about government is Romans, chapter 13. If you read it carefully, here is what you learn:

  • God is the one who has established civil government authority.
  • We are supposed to obey legitimate authority.
  • Government is a minister of God for good.
  • Government officials bear the “sword” to bring judgment upon evildoers.
  • We are obliged to pay taxes for the maintenance of that government [sorry about that one].

Implicit in the passage is the opposite: if government doesn’t carry out its God-given authority and becomes an enemy of the good, promoting evil instead, one’s obligation to obey everything it says is modified. Otherwise, we would be making government our god; but government is accountable to the One who established it and set up its boundaries.

Consequently, there is nothing unchristian about criticizing a government that oversteps its legitimate authority and/or advocates evil behavior. When the IRS unfairly singles out conservatives, abridging their freedom of speech, we can resist that and call for remedy. When the DOJ attempts to criminalize journalism, we can demand a redress of this grievance. When the NSA chooses to collect phone records and e-mail communications from the entire population, we can remind them that the innocent are not to be treated as if guilty without due process of law. When an administration covers up a botched operation in Benghazi that led to loss of life, it needs to be called to account for its actions and inactions, and those involved hardly should be promoted.

So, in those instances, from my Biblical foundation, I fully support genuine liberty. But that’s not the same as having a predisposition against all authority and harboring a view that all government is inherently evil. What bothers me most, I think, is the tendency of libertarianism to morph into a kind of semi-anarchy. Yes, the collectivism of Marxist ideology is perverse, but a state of near-anarchy is not the solution. It is an evil in the opposite direction. Further, the unforeseen consequence of throwing off most civil government and societal regulations will be an unwitting return to heavy-handed rule via the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest. Neither option is the Biblical way.

Therefore, while we should voice our concerns over violations of civil liberties, let’s avoid the temptation to dismiss all the proper functions of government: protection of its citizens from attacks both foreign and domestic, and the administration of justice by rewarding those who mirror Biblical morality and by meting out punishment to those who undermine that morality through murder, theft, and all other forms of evil.

Civil government comes from God. Now, let’s just make sure it does what God intended.

Overwhelmed by Scandals?

We’re in danger of having our senses overwhelmed by the sheer number of scandals emanating from the current administration. One might think this would do severe damage, yet, as during the Clinton years, it’s possible the public may become desensitized with the constant flow of information. We may hit the “overload” point. That would be devastating for the future health of the nation. We must stay focused and get to the whole truth.

Another concern is that the newest scandal, that of the NSA data-mining, will dwarf the others for media attention. As troubling as the NSA situation may be, even with some of the complexities that might not make it as bad as it seems, we shouldn’t allow it to shove the other problems to one side.

We’ve heard little about Benghazi lately. Yet four people died as a result of bad decisions, and it was followed by a major misdirection, blaming it all on a YouTube video. That has proven to be a lie. I’m hoping the congressional committees responsible for following up on this won’t let it languish and disappear from the public view. Justice has not been served.

The DOJ interference with the free press, and in particular the attempt to make James Rosen of Fox into a co-conspirator in a crime, deserves our continued attention also. This is a direct threat to freedom of the press.

Even the IRS attack on conservative groups is losing coverage. The only discipline for the government employees involved thus far is the false firing of Steven Miller and the administrative leave for Lois Lerner. I say false firing because Miller was scheduled to step down anyway. As for that administrative leave, well, I suspect a lot of workers wouldn’t mind that:

Administrative Leave

When representatives of conservative groups showed up for a congressional hearing last week to detail the abuses they have suffered under IRS scrutiny, neither ABC nor CNN had even one minute of coverage of that testimony. CBS and NBC weren’t much better—they came in at three minutes each. When you consider that CNN is a twenty-four-hour news channel, that’s particularly appalling. They apparently don’t care when conservatives receive such treatment:

Who Is This

If there’s any way to shift blame from the IRS to conservatives, the mainstream media will concoct it:

IRS Racist

Meanwhile, more video has surfaced of IRS employees enjoying themselves by virtue of the taxpayers. This time they put on a Star Trek skit. We’re paying for this?

The Final Frontier

We’re being so inundated with scandals, the federal government might have to change its phone messages:

Government Helpline

While I’m hopeful some measure of justice will come out of all this, there’s one result that can’t be changed at this point:

Could Be Worse

If only we had a media that would do its job.

Don’t Erect That Pedestal Just Yet

Edward SnowdenAs of this past Sunday, we have a new household name: Edward Snowden. In these two-plus days of his notoriety, his actions have divided people, and not clearly along ideological lines. Some conservatives and liberals support what he has done; others deplore his decision. What has he done? Working with a company contracting with the National Security Agency (NSA), he leaked secret information about the “date-mining” the NSA is doing. Then he left everything and everyone behind, sneaked over to Hong Kong, and hid himself in a hotel room. Finally, he concluded it would be great to reveal himself as the leaker, using a Far-Left newspaper, the Guardian of the UK, as his conduit.

Is Snowden a traitor or a hero? That’s the question being asked in all the news reports. What do I think of his actions? I’ll get back to that shortly.

The issues are complicated for this burgeoning scandal. Of all the scandals that have surfaced over the past month—Benghazi, IRS, DOJ—this one has caused more division. Most people, even Democrat politicians, seem to grasp the damage done by those other scandals, but there is no consensus on this one. Here are some solid principles to start our thinking:

  • One of the primary purposes of the American government, as outlined in the Constitution, is to protect its citizens. Under the Bush administration, the Patriot Act was signed into law to open up the channels of communication between national security agencies such as the NSA, the FBI, and the CIA. Bush realized, legitimately, that the lack of openness created by laws that set up barriers, helped create a climate of ignorance that led to the attacks on 9/11.
  • In our attempts to discover threats to national security, it is necessary to gather as much intelligence as we can to avoid another terrorist attack on American soil.
  • As we do this, we cannot throw constitutional guarantees under the bus. We must not abridge the First Amendment right to free political speech and free exercise of religion; we must resist all efforts to disarm a populace that may need those arms for personal protection; we should never allow government snooping that disregards the Fourth Amendment’s assurance against general search warrants. One of the opening salvos in the colonists’ resistance to Great Britain in our early days was the tyranny of general search warrants, whereby the government could come into one’s home and look for whatever, without a specific court order for a specific item. It amounted to the total loss of one’s security in one’s home.

The NSA program’s objective in its search for phone records, e-mails, etc., is to find the links that could lead to terror. I understand that. It is essential to stop those plans to save lives. Yet, what Snowden is saying is that the search has become so all-inclusive that we have potentially lost all rights to privacy—that the government can know about everyone we’ve called and can read all our e-mails. Yes, that is a scary scenario. Why? First, because of the violation that would be of the Fourth Amendment [and the First, if prosecution should follow]. Second, because we’ve already seen how this particular administration has no regard whatsoever for constitutional guarantees.

Looking for Trends

Those other ongoing scandals have revealed a desire by this government to curtail freedom of speech and religion, and to pursue reporters who even dare to ask significant questions about administration policy. You’ll have to forgive me if Obama’s assurances leave me cold:

Reassure All Americans

So, while there are legitimate reasons to data-mine, to some extent, the rub is the extensive nature of the mining. When you throw a net over all phone calls, that’s potentially the same as a general search warrant. If the government really can read all our e-mails—still a disputable point, at least considering the magnitude of the task—that is a clear and present danger to freedom of political speech, especially in an atmosphere that relishes the targeting of perceived political “enemies.”

That brings us back to Snowden. Is he a hero or a traitor? For those who take the first view, he has bravely put his life on the line to reveal the extent of the program. Life for him will no longer be the same. He has uncovered a threat to American liberty. I understand that, and certainly have sympathies in that direction.

For those who take the second view, he has endangered national security, fled his responsibilities, decided to reside in an area ruled by Communist China, which is already doing its best to undermine our cyber-security, and should be brought to justice. Some have openly declared him a defector and traitor whose actions have put lives at risk; therefore, he should receive the death penalty for what he has done.

 My position, at this point, and until I can digest more information, is that this data-mining does require the greatest of scrutiny. There are intelligence committees in both houses of Congress that already are overseeing the program. I would like to know if they have been doing their job adequately. Have they permitted this to get out of hand? The original intent of the Patriot Act was not to gather this kind of intrusive information from all American citizens. The FISA court, which allows the searching, is supposed to guarantee that the focus of the searches is on foreign individuals, not Americans. Is the court doing its job?

For those reasons, I am glad for the exposure. We need to be aware of what our government is doing, and if it has crossed the line. That’s not a paranoid delusion, given this administration’s track record and its overall ideology.

However, I do not support the manner in which the exposure occurred. As I read about Snowden and listen to him, I don’t come away convinced he is this paragon of virtue that many have claimed. It’s too soon to erect a statue in his honor. He went outside the channels whereby he could have raised the issues. Other whistleblowers have taken their evidence directly to Congress. I saw an interview the other day with one former government employee who followed those channels and accomplished his goals. He was just as outraged by the exposure of the data-mining as Snowden, yet he condemned Snowden’s actions.

Frankly—and I know many will disagree—I sense that Snowden is on the immature side, with a flair for the grandiose. His method of exposure is exactly what I would expect from someone seeking the limelight. It’s a rash action, with little thought to the consequences, his supposed cautions notwithstanding. I have little confidence in his character.

Therefore, let the scrutiny proceed; it’s necessary to ensure our liberties. But let’s not set up a pedestal and place Edward Snowden’s likeness on it.

The one real beneficiary of all these scandals?

More Scandals

Holder, Obama, & the Current Scandals

The pressure is mounting on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign. His transgressions predate the current scandals, but these recent revelations certainly highlight the basic character of the man. This is a character that was evident to many from the start, but only now has the knowledge spread to the more general population. The chief law enforcer for the country should be above reproach. That doesn’t describe Holder.

Nah

In the bizzaro world of Democrat politics, President Obama doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with having Holder conduct the investigation into himself:

Got a Lead

Possible Co-conspirator

Without going into all the details of Holder’s inconsistencies—otherwise known as lies—one thing has become painfully obvious:

Can't Stand the Heat

Yet, with all the attention on Holder, the man who is ultimately responsible is not receiving the focus he deserves for his part in all the scandals. Of course, his defense is that either he is totally ignorant or completely incompetent. That’s supposed to inspire confidence?

My Job

Lead from Behind

The one talent he has honed during his tenure is the ability to blame others for whatever goes wrong. For a while, it was all George Bush’s fault. Now he’s having to look for other scapegoats:

Low-Level Staffers

If you’re looking for someone to model how to throw others under the bus, you’ve found him.

The Source of All the Scandals?

Have you noticed how often Friday afternoons become a dumping ground for bad news? The Obama administration has become skilled at releasing all information harmful to the president late on Fridays when few are watching. They apparently hope that the coming weekend will limit the damage. Some commentators have begun to refer to this as the “Friday Dump.”

Well, I’m about to do some dumping of my own today, but at least I’m not hiding it. There have been so many great political cartoons dealing with the various Obama scandals that I’m just going to dump a bunch of them on you with minimal commentary of my own.

Benghazi has taken a back seat lately, but I predict it will be coming back strong sooner than one might think. That’s why political prognosticators should be careful:

Premature Poll

The DOJ’s interference with our free press, and its attempt to label one journalist a criminal for merely pursuing a story, still is making headlines, and will continue to do so as long as the press feels threatened:

Acts of Journalism

However, the scandal that seems to resonate the most with the public, simply because they are ripe for being targeted as well, is the IRS seeking to stifle the political speech and activities of conservatives. This one may well have tilted the last presidential election in Obama’s favor as many groups were kept from fundraising and working as tax-exempt organizations.

Filing Status

Take the Fifth

What’s interesting is that “taking the Fifth” has made a 180-degree turn:

I'm Taking the Fifth

It’s nice to know Ms. Lerner now has an appreciation for the Constitution. I wonder what would happen if taxpayers took the same approach to the IRS that the IRS is now taking with regard to this scandal?

Try This

In all of this, of course, the president is out of the loop, in the dark, hardly knowing what’s going on:

At No Time

Convenient. One cartoonist, though, has put his finger on what may be the most disconcerting aspect in all of this:

Most Troubling

Where does the source of all the problems lie? Here’s a suggestion:

Internet Video

Veiled Disdain & Baghdad Jay

I watched some of the House hearing on Friday when outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller was being questioned. First impressions can be wrong at times, but my first impression of Miller was confirmed as the hearing progressed. What I saw was a man who seemed to think it somehow beneath him to be forced to appear before these congressmen. I sensed an air of superiority in Miller, combined with a thinly veiled disdain for the entire proceedings.

His testimony, such as it was, only furthered the theme of the entire Obama administration as these scandals unfold. Yes, mistakes were made, but nothing, absolutely nothing, was carried out from a political motive. It was just a coincidence, I guess, that groups with Tea Party, patriot, 9/12, or constitutional in their names were singled out for extra scrutiny, while progressive organizations flew through the process with nary a second thought. Miller never admitted any real wrongdoing; he even said he didn’t consider it illegal to set up a different standard for targeted groups. Actually, he refused even to acknowledge the word “targeted” because he said it was too pejorative a term. How dare we judge the motives of our civil servants.

This is insulting to the intelligence of the American people. I just hope enough of them feel sufficiently insulted to respond by resisting the numerous attempts to run roughshod over them. In the person of Steven Miller we see the ultimate bureaucratic character: unresponsive, haughty, more-intelligent-than-thou. We also see, in a microcosm, the heart of the problem with any government agency, but particularly one with the power of the IRS.

One of the highlights of the hearing was the articulate lecture offered to Miller by a congressman from Pennsylvania, Mike Kelly. He aimed directly at the IRS’s power over people and the intimidation factor. His mini-lesson was, to use a word overused by the younger generation, awesome. It was greeted with a standing ovation from the spectators in the room. That, in itself, should be a message to this administration.

Yet they still don’t get it. In the middle of all the muddle, the president found time to attend another one of his unending celebrity fundraisers. At the event, he blamed all his problems on Rush Limbaugh. And when Jay Carney appeared on Piers Morgan’s program on CNN, he said there were no scandals. He called Benghazi a “total concoction by Republicans” and even boasted that the released e-mails showed “Republicans are wrong.” So, in his mind, everything is fine.

Who recalls Baghdad Bob, the media hack for Saddam Hussein, who went on what was left of Iraqi TV at the time of the invasion, to assure everyone that there was no real invasion? That kind of disconnection with reality is cropping up in our current circumstances. Perhaps Carney needs a change of clothes so he can play the part more effectively:

There’s an aura of unreality about all of this. How long can blatant, public lies continue to carry their contrived message?

The “I didn’t know anything” theme is getting kind of old, too:

Well, maybe someday they’ll find who’s really responsible for all these misdeeds:

Is that really out of the question? Who knows to what depths they will sink.