Obama Right to Refuse to Negotiate with Himself

2obama1-popupNew Orleans   For five years whenever I’ve been asked for advice from various national campaigns whether immigration reform or healthcare or living wages or whatever, when it’s come to how to move President Obama, I’ve always argued, don’t lobby, don’t email, don’t tweet, point all the heat you can generate directly at him.  His record has always been that he will make some concessions.   None of my advice is meant to  be disrespectful nor to imply that pressure will guarantee the precise results sought, but nonetheless any analysis of his record of response and reaction to hard heat, is that he always gives up something, and often way more than he should have.   Unfortunately, watching the Tea Party, the shutdown mess, and the rearguard attack on the Affordable Care Act, no matter how quixotic and improbable, it’s fairly clear that the Republican Taliban also had about the same analysis and more will than progressives to make the fight.

            Now it’s with real pleasure that I can say that finally I’m wrong, and President Obama is holding the line by finally wisely reckoning that since he is unable to negotiate without giving concessions to opponents committed to bargaining in bad faith, the best strategy is to refuse to negotiate at all.   Yes, this is a dangerous strategy, but, damn, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks for his work in the trenches and not for his speech for the Nobel Prize.  

            It could blow up in Obama’s face, and there are still signs of sniveling everywhere for example in the reports of  little toehold compromise discussions on special interest pieces of the Affordable Care Act to curry favor from medical device manufacturers, fans of Cadillac policies including some unions, and various delays.   Hopefully Obama will hold the line there as well, since the real changes that are needed are on closing the big loopholes like the fact that rip-off, high deductible policies are being approved for big companies, and family members are being trapped outside of the exchanges by these same pretend-policies.

            This Administration has a couple of years left.  There’s no question we are in for a horror show for another year through the mid-term elections, but the only chance Obama has or any of us have who support progressive policies, is if the President holds the line for a change, and manages to rewrite the narrative so that what is won is finally done, and we can move forward, not keep failing to have a “meeting of the minds.”



Bloomberg News: ACORN was Target of IRS

acornNew Orleans   The headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune read, “ACORN, based in N.O., was a target of IRS,” so it caught my eye.  The story to no surprise concerned revelations of recently available unedited documents from the IRS released by Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland and others that ACORN and its successor organizations were lined up for extra scrutiny.  This doesn’t mean that many did not receive the IRS designations they sought and in fact to my knowledge all of them did, but there were delays, additional questions, and hoops to crawl through. 

Heck, ACORN International is now in the second year of an interminable IRS investigation by a special forensic accountant based in the north Texas metroplex.  The fellow is likeable and relaxed, and so am I, so he’s got his job, and I’ve got mine, and eventually it will be finished without any big harrumph I assume, because both of us know that we’ve done nothing wrong, though we were late on some paperwork, and by god, he’s right, we need to do better.

Contrary to the Republicans and the Tea Party folks, I just assume that if you are going to do the work we do, organizing lower income and working families around the world for justice and power, this kind of governmental review comes with the turf.  Nonetheless, the more I read about their whining, the more they are about to convince me that maybe they are right, and folks doing what we do should not have a root canal kind of experience every time we interact with the government. 

            What do I know?  Anyway, checkout the original article from Richard Rubin of Bloomberg News entitled:

IRS Nonprofit Scrutiny Included Look for ACORN Successors

By Richard Rubin – Aug 20, 2013 Bloomberg News

The Internal Revenue Service told its employees to watch out for applications for tax-exempt status by successors to ACORN, the now-defunct Democratic-leaning community organizing group.

Congressional Democrats, who released the recently unredacted information today, maintained that such scrutiny undermines the idea that the U.S. tax agency’s policing of political groups was limited to Tea Party organizations.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, disbanded in 2010 after hidden videos showed workers offering advice on opening a prostitution business.

“This new information should put a nail in the coffin of the Republican claims that the IRS’s actions were politically motivated or were targeted at only one side of the political spectrum,” Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “It is time for House Republicans to stop trying to score political points and start to focus on reforming the IRS.”

Republicans have insisted that Tea Party groups and other organizations that aid Republicans were subject to longer IRS delays as they awaited confirmation of their tax-exempt status.

The IRS disclosed in May that it had put Tea Party groups’ applications under extra scrutiny, and apologized. Since then, at least four IRS officials have been pushed out of their jobs, congressional committees have opened inquiries and the Justice Department has begun a criminal probe.

The information released today after the IRS relaxed its reading of privacy rules doesn’t explain in detail how ACORN-like groups were to be treated. ACORN conducted voter registration drives and helped prepare tax returns for low-income people.

The new information also shows that “Emerge” groups were subject to extra attention from the IRS. In 2012, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of affiliates of Emerge America, which trained Democratic candidates for office and was deemed too political to qualify for tax-exempt status.

The IRS’s treatment of Emerge shouldn’t be compared with how Tea Party groups were singled out by name, said Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“The fact that Emerge was initially approved for tax-exempt status, but had it revoked after its improper behavior came to light, underscores how much more stringent the IRS was with Tea Party applicants,” he said in a statement.



IRS Mainly Targeted Nonprofits on the Left

irsLittle Rock  According to IRS documents now released to the public, the Republicans and the right have been squealing like stuck pigs about being discriminated against on their applications for a free tax ride without any good reason, because the IRS was an “equal opportunity” discriminator targeting both the left and the right for special attention.  The IRS docs seem to back up their earlier contention that they were using “key words” to root out what they suspected might be political organizations hiding behind a social welfare cover story in order to con the tax man.  They not only pulled out Tea Party but also Occupy and Progressive in their searches.  There are lessons here, but I’m not sure any of them are all that good.

            According to a report in the New York Times, this name sorting attack went on until recent weeks.  Furthermore, the slap at the left was broader and more political than the conservatives have claimed.

One such “be on the lookout” list included medical marijuana groups, organizations that were promoting President Obama’s health care law, and applications that dealt “with disputed territories in the Middle East.”

            The IRS seems to be over the top in his ham-fisted appreciation of both foreign and domestic policy.   It will be interesting to see if Congressman Issa and his investigations committee will be as lathered up now that it is clear that the main targets were liberals and not conservatives.  I’m not holding my breath.

Clearly, they were out of control, but what’s new about that?

The IRS or the Service as it calls itself often believes there are no boundaries to the questions and information that they believe is relevant in an investigation.  Years ago I had a lawyer who referred to government investigators for the IRS and DOL as always looking for “booze, broads, and Cadillac’s,” but that’s way old school now.  They operate more like a Google search with an IRS ID-badge  believing that they have license to delve into anything they might have pulled up in a search, and, god knows, if you’ve ever been on the internet, you know there’s some crazy stuff out there about virtually everything and everyone.

The IRS needs to collect what taxes are due and make sure that there are no wolves in sheep’s clothing out there, but maybe they should go back to the old school and just go through one application at a time and get it right.  In the meantime anyone applying for a tax exemption would be wise to think very carefully about what name they call their outfit.  I would recommend plain vanilla like Institute for Social Welfare or Organization for the Good or something along those lines for a quick “yes” from the IRS.


What IRS Scandal?

Little Rock  Increasingly the IRS exempt offices controversy is looking more and more like a tempest at a Tea Party.

            When Dave Johnson, a blogger at the Huffington Post, wrote a lead sentence reminding readers that they needed to remember the ACORN manufactured videos when they read about the IRS so-called scandal, he had my full attention.   Looking past the headlines, he brought attention to the testimony of IRS officials that of the 300 applications – out of thousands – they pulled for scrutiny only 70 involved the Tea-people types or less than 25% of the total.  Of the other 230 pulled, many were from progressive or liberal groups, some of which were actually denied, and that happened to none of the Tea applications. 

            For evidence Johnson didn’t have to look too hard. 

From the Congressional hearing record:

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-IL: “How come only conservative groups got snagged?”

Outgoing acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller: “They didn’t sir. Organizations of all walks and all persuasions were pulled in. That’s shown by the fact that only 70 of the 300 organizations were tea party organizations, of the ones that were looked at by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration].”

             And, from business source Bloomberg in an article appropriately entitled, “IRS Sent Same Letter to Democrats that Fed Tea Party Row:”

“One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected. Progress Texas … faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.

In a statement late yesterday, the tax agency said it had pooled together the politically active nonpartisan applicants — including a “minority” that were identified because of their names. “It is also important to understand that the group of centralized cases included organizations of all political views,” the IRS said in its statement.”

            Johnson also makes the very good point that most of the applications drowning the IRS in the wake of the Supreme Court’s  Citizen United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate political contributions and the special c4 exempt status that allowed all of these operations to keep the names of the donors on secret, got a free ride and were approved with no questions asked.  A mixed bag from all over the political map had to fill out some forms for additional information, but most of those including what appears to be all of the Tea Party related applicants ended up being approved. 

            Once again it is worth remembering that “things are not always the way they seem,” especially when we are being manipulated by many to only see what they want us to see.

IRS Scandal Audio Blog


Hating Breitbart: The Movie

New Orleans   Andrew Breitbart was the face and force behind a number of high traffic websites during his career, ended suddenly with a fatal heart attack more than a year ago.  He played a role in helping set up the liberal Huffington Post, but at his death was best known for his “big” sites, especially Big Government, a right wing love feast.  To goose the traffic on these sites, Breitbart courted controversy including releasing cellphone photos that became the undoing of Anthony Weiner, now a former Congressman from New York City, and potential candidate for Mayor there, but perhaps his best known escapades were based on his partnership with the even more controversial conservative activist and videographer, James O’Keefe, especially his ACORN takedown.

Interestingly, I interviewed Andrew Marcus, the director of a documentary about Breitbart, called Hating Breitbart, yesterday on my weekly “Wade’s World” show on Friday morning’s at 9AM, since the movie was appearing at the Little Rock Film Festival.  Marcus’ route to the movie had been circuitous.  Coming out of film school in Chicago he became fascinated with filming protests because of the “human drama” that always emerged through the camera.  He created a blog on protest films, and next thing he knew he was filming Cindy Sheehan, the Iraq war casualty’s mother, protesting at President George Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, and in the process the experience radicalized him as he witnessed what he saw as a double standard of lax reporting by the national media about the protests and the infrastructure that made them possible.  From there it was a short leap to catching the Tea Party as it grew and to then bonding with Breitbart, who he met while filming him speaking at a tea party, and gathering the footage that becomes Hating Breitbart.

Marcus confirmed in our conversation that Breitbart was in many ways apolitical.  He liked a good fight and wanted to build his business, so he was a happy warrior in some ways who became a conservative darling.  Certainly Breitbart’s real passion, shared by the director, was poking the rest of the media in the eye.  All of which seems natural to me, because he wanted to make his web-voice stand out in the herd.  Marcus, and perhaps Breitbart and many on the right, see the media’s indifference not as incompetence, but conspiracy, not as laziness, but bias and design.  Ironically, this view would find much common cause on the left as well, where victimization can also be a common complaint.  Marcus’ “hating” theme comes from his perspective that the antipathy stirred by Breitbart discolored the true man, but Marcus is surely aware that the “hating” from the right as well and the demonization of politics, politicians, and organizations, like ACORN, is equally obscuring.

Marcus seemed defensive about questions concerning James O’Keefe and his relationship with Breitbart, wanting to define O’Keefe as a “freelancer” and ignore the factual history of Breitbart’s dissembling about his financial and professional relationship with O’Keefe for months before admitting to it, which is anything but something described in the common vernacular of publisher to freelance journalist.  Marcus wanted to have questions about O’Keefe and his plummeting credibility around fake presentation of video on ACORN, legal settlements in San Diego for harm he inflicted on an ACORN worker, and the fiasco he was involved with in tampering with phones in Senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans field office, referred to O’Keefe directly.  At one point he even offered to give me O’Keefe’s phone number on the air, which would have been a huge privacy breach that I declined.  He was disturbed that people didn’t understand that the final settlement on the Landrieu case was for a misdemeanor and not a felony, which is hardly the point.  I asked if O’Keefe had any questions now about how stupid a stunt it was, but the answer was again a phone number for O’Keefe.  He also expressed amazement that people saw O’Keefe’s fake pimp video promo getup on his ACORN assault as “racist.”   Wow!

All of which inevitably leads to the conclusion that he got so close to the subject that he lost perspective.  What in some situations might have been an interesting and nuanced film about contradictions often missed by participants but shared by activists on both sides of the line, seemed increasingly to have been an attempt to hoist a banner on a battleground now abandoned by a warrior for another lost and forgotten cause.

Hating Breitbart Audio Blog


IRS and the Tea Party

Edinburgh   The Internal Revenue Service apologized for batching up 300 applications for 501c4 tax exempt status when groups had Tea Party or Patriot in their names, claiming they were flooded with 2600 applications and their lower level pencil pushers were just trying to figure out a short cut.  Conservatives and their Congressional allies screamed like stuck pigs demanding assurances that this kind of thing never happens again.  Public Citizen, the old Ralph Nadar campaign finance watchdog, tried to get a word in edgewise demanding more investigations of the abuse of tax exempt status being awarded without any viable claims to benefiting “social welfare” as required by the regulations.  They believe, as do many others, that c4 status is becoming a signpost for creating a tax haven to serve as a political slush fund on the Karl Rove Crossroads model of no holds barred campaign spending in the last US Presidential election.

What should we make of all of this this?  Worth the worry or a tempest in a tea party…I mean tea pot?

Next to the military and the CIA, there are few more inscrutable and opaque government outfits than the IRS, making it pretty easy to believe both Kentucky Senator Mitch O’Connell’s accusations about their “thuggish” practice and the Tea people’s lawyer’s cry about McCarthyism.  The Republicans  don’t much like the IRS or anyone involved in tax collection given their project of dismantling the government dollar by dollar, so it’s not like they are going to budget more money for better supervision of nonprofits or anyone else, so it will be even easier to believe the IRS apologists that they were sorry because they were incompetent and didn’t supervise their agents well in sort of a “guys gone wild in Cincinnati” storyline.

And, of course we all have our own stories on this side of the divide as well.  This year I’ve had to pay for a tax certificate requested by nonprofits in Japan to pay for speaking over there.  Six months, no word, and no way to track it down.  In another incident this year, I had to pay for a new copy of an exemption letter sent to me at the wrong address and lost without me knowing it was sent for several years, and suddenly got a call from an IRS investigator saying my letter and the results of an audit were held up because filing and paying for the letter as instructed by Cincinnati had confused them in Fort Worth into thinking someone else was trying to file for a new exemption under the ACORN International c3 number.  One the other hand I had a great conversation with the IRS several weeks ago about waiving penalties and fines for KABF in Little Rock, and thanks for that guys!  My point is simply that there is no way to figure the IRS out.  And, I don’t want to get into how long it took them to start paying attention to the predatory nature of refund anticipation loans or the way they handle volunteer or VITA sites and their so-called “partnerships” there.  They move at their own chosen speed without explanation or transparency, and it’s luck of the draw every time Joe Citizen ends up dealing with them, so basically the only good strategy is avoiding them completely and hoping they lose your name in the files somewhere.  In short, we should all feel lucky it’s not worse.

As for the Tea people and Public Citizen’s positions, most of the Tea groups will shrivel and die anyway so it hardly matters at some level, and Karl Rove and his lawyers could tie the IRS up for years and might argue that stopping Obama from being elected is their definition of contributing to the public’s “social welfare.”  Both sides are no doubt right even for both right and wrong reasons, all of which adds up to the likelihood that with less staff and less funding and no improvements in supervision or transparency, the only sure bet is that our experiences with the IRS will get a lot worse before they get any better.

IRS & Tea Party Audio Blog